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This week: Early Bird tourney a softball sneak preview
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Whether a team is rebuilding or trying to become state champions for the third straight year, this week’s Early Bird Softball Tournament serves as a talent evaluator and helps teams fill some voids left by graduation.

"We’re looking to see a bunch of different positions that girls can play," Flowery Branch coach Valerie Lancaster said. "We’ll do a lot of moving around to fill our needs."

The Lady Falcons, who open the four-day tournament against Union County at 4 p.m. Tuesday, are not the only team looking to fill roles.

The two-time defending Class AA state champion Buford Lady Wolves have two key positions (shortstop and center field) to fill, and will use this week’s tournament to find players capable of jumping into those roles.

"We have to find a shortstop and center fielder," Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. "That’ll be the emphasis and not whether we win or lose, or how we compare to other people."

Some of the other teams involved in this week’s tournament are North Hall, Gainesville, Parkview and Class AAAAA’s Greenbrier, who went 33-7 last year and will play Buford at 1 p.m. Tuesday at North Georgia College & State University.

Gainesville opens the tournament at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday against Franklin County at Flowery Branch, while North Hall plays host to Shaw at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The tournament is from Tuesday-Friday with games at North Georgia, North Hall and Flowery Branch.

Second-half surge?

While high school softball teams are looking to fill voids, the professional baseball teams begin the second half of the season with postseason aspirations.

Both the Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves hope to continue their second-half surge with homestands this week.

Atlanta continues its homestand with a four-game series against the surprising San Francisco Giants, who boast two of the game’s best young pitchers in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Jonathan Sanchez, who threw the first no-hitter of the season on July 11, will take the mound for the Giants in tonight’s series-opener. He’ll face Braves rookie Tommy Hanson, who enters the game with a 4-0 record and a 2.85 ERA.

A series win by the Braves could help their playoff chances, as they trail the Giants by 5 1/2 games in the NL Wild Card standings.

The G-Braves also have postseason hopes as the second half of the AAA season begins.

Gwinnett trails wild card leader Norfolk by 2 1/2 games, which can be drastically cut into this week as the Tides visit Gwinnett for a four-game series beginning today.

These two clubs are also trying to put together a winning streak so they can surpass division leader Durham, which has a one-game lead over the Tides and 3 1/2 game lead over Gwinnett.

Football at the Dome

The NFL season is more than a month away, but that doesn’t mean that football isn’t being played at the home of the Atlanta Falcons.

Of course, the game played this week is not American football, but the European version that this country refers to as soccer.

Two of the world’s greatest teams take to the field at the Georgia Dome on Wednesday as AC Milan takes on Club America in the inaugural World Football Challenge.

AC Milan, which plays in Series A of the Italian Football League, boasts Brazilian stars Pato and Ronaldinho, while Club America of Mexico, has such stars as Pavel Pardo and Salvador Cabanas.

Inter Milan and Chelsea FC are also competing in the World Football Challenge, a four-team tournament that concludes July 26.

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