The past few seasons, East Hall softball has struggled.
In 2010 the Lady Vikings finished 2-22; they won just seven games the year before that.
Two thirds of the way through 2011, the senior-led team (8-9-1, 1-3 8-AA North) has already exceeded all expectations, not to mention last year’s win total.
“We’ve grown a lot,” said East Hall coach Jenny Crow. “We have large senior and freshman classes and it has created a good dynamic.”
The Lady Vikings even have a shot at a region tournament appearance heading into the North Fall Classic and the final two weeks of the regular season.
Part of the reason for the turnaround is that East Hall now has an established, ace pitcher in senior Harlee Grogan. Last season she was one of a number of options in the pitching circle, but she has distinguished herself in her final year.
“I think we need that one pitcher who really sets the tone,” Crow said.
The large senior class has helped to set this new tone, with the knowledge that it won’t get another year to turn things around.
“It’s finally clicking with the seniors that this is our last chance,” senior catcher Holly Strickland said. “Last year we had a team meeting and said we would pick it up, but we didn’t do it.
“This year we’re making the adjustments.”
For the East Hall softball team, the North Fall Classic co-hosted by North Hall this week will hopefully serve as a glimpse of what it would be like to compete in the Region 8-AA tournament.
“We’re going to go at this just like its the region tournament,” Crow said.
The tournament starts Wednesday at both North Hall and North Georgia College. The Lady Vikings are in the competitive Pool 1 along with defending Class AAA state champions White County (7-5, 3-3 region) and fellow Class AAA school and tournament hosts North Hall (6-11, 2-5). The hosts will play the Lady Warriors at 4:30 p.m. to start the day, and then East Hall will have a shot at White County in a rematch of an early season game in which East Hall upset the defending champs 3-2. The Lady Vikings will then play their county rivals in the nightcap starting at 8 p.m.
Based on their pool play results, each team will play three games Saturday in either the silver bracket at North Hall or the gold bracket at North Georgia.
For White County and coach Beth Kimsey, the tournament is a chance for the defending champs to gain some momentum as they fight for a postseason berth down the stretch.
“We know that we have to finish strong in order to be able to compete for the playoffs, so hopefully, we’ve saved our best ball for this part of our season,” Kimsey said. “A tournament win would definitely give us momentum for the next two weeks of our season and on into the playoffs.”
North Hall and White County could meet up with fellow 8-AAA team and potential postseason contender Lumpkin County (8-5, 5-2), which will be playing Wednesday at North Georgia College, in the Saturday bracket.
Commerce and Flowery Branch fill out Pool 2 along with the Lady Indians. Pool 3, which includes Brookstone, Calvary Day Christian and 8-AA North contender Banks County, will commence pool play Friday at North Hall.
Banks County is one of the teams standing in the way of the Lady Vikings’ region tournament push, having already beaten East Hall 9-1 earlier in the season. But as the East Hall players surely know by now, there are still plenty of chances to improve, starting with this week’s tournament.
“Last year we didn’t have the confidence factor that we have this year,” Crow said.
This has already been the best season of East Hall softball for Strickland and the rest of the influential senior class. The Lady Vikings have already blown past their season records for the past two years.
“We’re playing our hearts out,” the catcher said. “We’re finding mistakes and working to correct them.”
Now they have a chance to make some noise in the North Fall Classic and in Region 8-AA North as the Lady Vikings continue their surprising turnaround season.