Kim McMillan enjoys all the positive feedback she hears in the community about the University of North Georgia’s softball success. Around Dahlonega, McMillan, the power-hitting first baseman for the Nighthawks, knows the success of the program matters to the people in the close-knit Lumpkin County community.
“I’ll have people come up to me in the grocery store and tell me they’re pulling for us,” said McMillan, who is batting .453 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs for North Georgia. “It shows people care about what we’re doing.”
This weekend, sixth-ranked North Georgia (47-7) faces No. 8 Georgia College (42-9) in the NCAA Division II Southeast Super Regional at Haines and Carolyn Hill Stadium in Dahlonega. Game 1 starts at 5 p.m. today, while a potential doubleheader will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday in the best-of-three series. The winner moves on to the eight-team Division II College World Series starting May 21 at the ASA Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City, Okla.
North Georgia’s current roster is looking for its first berth in the eight-team College World Series, after the school made the trip three straight seasons from 2009-2011.
The prospect of playing for a national championship is great, but Nighthawks coach Mike Davenport knows the challenge at hand with Georgia College deserves all his attention right now.
North Georgia defeated Georgia College for the Peach Belt Conference, 2-0, on April 26 in Milledgeville. The Nighthawks also won both games in the regular set meeting (3-1, 2-1) in Middle Georgia.
“Georgia College has given us everything they had this year,” said Davenport, who has 644 wins during his 15 years in charge of the North Georgia program. “It’s going to be a great challenge for our team.”
After missing the College World Series by one game last year, Davenport said the 2015 season has been a work in progress.
Clearly, the Nighthawks have been up to the challenge.
North Georgia posted a 21-game winning streak during Peach Belt Conference play.
Only once during the regular season did the Nighthawks drop consecutive games. Davenport said this year’s squad has been blessed with a competitive streak that has kept the Nighthawks from growing complacent with success.
“All season, we’ve been focused on the next step,” said Davenport. “For us, it’s all about playing a very good Georgia College program.”
Standing out among all of North Georgia’s talented players is junior pitcher Courtney Poole (40-3, 0.92 ERA). Davenport said Poole, the Daktronics Southeast Region Pitcher of the Year, expanded her pitching arsenal during the time leading up to her senior season. Davenport said Poole has gotten better every year she’s been at North Georgia, and is the clear anchor for the pitching staff.
“Courtney went to work last summer and developed more pitches,” said Davenport.
In the Southeast Regional, Poole was dominant in the circle, picking up the win in all three games, allowing only one run, in a 6-1 win against Catawba on May 9 in Dahlonega.
Her win the following day against Catawba, her 40th of the season, was the clincher to secure a berth in the Super Regional in Dahlonega. North Georgia opened Southeast Regional play with a 6-0 win against Limestone on May 8 behind six scoreless innings and 13 strikeouts recorded by Poole, who is one of three finalists for Division II Player of the Year.
Poole is taking nothing for granted, knowing past success against Georgia College has no bearing on what will happen this weekend.
“It’s going to be a battle against Georgia College,” said Poole, who has allowed just 173 hits over 281 2/3 innings in the circle.
Meanwhile, the left-handed hitting McMillan, who played her freshman season at Purdue, hasn’t flinched at the plate, providing power and consistent hitting since the season began.
McMillan, the Daktronics Southeast Region Player of the Year, homered twice in a 6-0 win against Lincoln Merorial, had three hits in a game against Francis Marion and a season-high six RBIs in a 9-0 victory against Mercyhurst on March 7.
“Kim has had a tremendous season,” said Davenport. “She’s gotten better every season for us.”
Davenport said that support from the community and school has been a big lift to his program.
“We appreciate all the support, and hope to see a big crowd this weekend,” Davenport said.