GAINESVILLE — For two programs that endured 2008 seasons wrought with few wins, Friday’s softball season-openers were clear indicators that a new chapter has begun.
Gainesville High finished last season with a 9-18 mark, East Hall High with a 7-21 record; yet both teams showed signs of reinvigoration in wins at the Lanier Point Invitational at the Lanier Point Softball Complex in Gainesville.
Behind the arm of Caitlin Presnell and the bats of Rebecca Lawrence, Natalie Allen and Tiesha McMullen the Lady Red Elephants beat Holy Innocents’ 11-5.
“This game was a lot of fun,” Gainesville softball coach Jeremy Kemp said. “These girls have worked hard.”
After the Lady Golden Bears, who were the home team, took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, Presnell made sure no more damage was done while the first-game jitters on offense subsided for the rest of her team.
She did that and more, holding Holy Innocents’ scoreless through the next four innings on her way to a complete-game win with three strikeouts.
“She was unbelievable,” Kemp said. “She lost focus a little in the end (giving up four runs in the bottom of the last inning), but we didn’t hit well at first and she solely kept us in it.”
The Gainesville bats finally broke their silence in the top of the fourth when the Lady Red Elephants not only tied the game at one, but took a three-run lead.
Maggie Norton started the rally with a double, moving to second on a single by Lawrence who promptly stole second on the first pitch of the next at bat.
Allen stepped to the plate and hit a double, scoring Norton who was the tying run and she was followed by Katy Womack who hit a triple to score Lawrence and Allen and give the Lady Red Elephants a lead they would not relinquish.
Womack rounded out the four-run fourth, scoring on an error by the Lady Golden Bears second baseman.
Lawrence finished the game 2-for-3 with a double, a stolen base and a run scored. Allen finished 2-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and a run scored.
When all was said and done, six of the nine Lady Red Elephants’ batters had RBIs and all had at least one run scored.
“We hit the ball really well after the fourth,” Kemp said. “We were very nervous the first few innings, but luckily we got over it.”
Gainesville scored another run in the fifth and six in the sixth and final inning.
McMullen was the catalyst in the fifth and sixth, getting hits in both to finish 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
“I think we’re confidenct right now,” Kemp added. “We were confident coming in because the girls have worked hard and anytime you put that kind of work in, it gives you confidence.”
In contrast to Gainesville, the Lady Vikings showed no signs of early nerves scoring two runs in the top of the first inning on their way to a 4-1 win against Rabun County.
“(Starting strong) was big for these girls,” said first-year East Hall coach Jenny Crow. “They’re coming off a tough season and have a new coach — it’s a new team.”
Kayla McDougal got the win in the circle for East Hall, holding the Lady Wildcats to just four hits while allowing only two walks.
Sophomore Keri Jones and junior Kelsey Allen each went 2-for-3 on the night for East Hall with Jones also scoring twice.
“We hit the poo out of the ball,” Crow said. “We hit one through nine and did what we had to do.
“It’s a big feat for us to win this game,” she added.
In other games, West Hall was held scoreless in its season opener against Banks County.
Emily Hammond and Bailey Soucie were the only two Lady Spartans to get hits in their 8-0 loss.
Chestatee lost its first game of the tournament to Pepperell 2-1. The Lady War Eagles rallied in the bottom of the first to tie the game at one but were unable to do it again after Pepperell scored a run in the top of the last.
White County fell to Blessed Trinity 5-2 in its opening game. The Lady Warriors scored two runs in the top of the first on RBI singles by Lindsey Messmore and Heather Herdliska.
Messmore finished the game 2-for-3 with an RBI.
The Lady Warriors rebounded in their last game of the night to beat Pepperell 6-4.
Dawson County held on to beat Fannin County 4-3. The Lady Tigers held the Lady Rebels scoreless until the top of the last when they hit for three runs. The Lady Tigers capped the night off by beating Holy Innocents' 13-3.