MOULTRIE – There’s reason for excitement as Colquitt County High looks towards the new 2019 fall season, and it’s not just because the playing field seems a bit more level as Lowndes lost three Division I signees.
It’s head coach Chance Pitts’ fourth season running the Packer program, and on the varsity level it could well be his most experienced. The roster includes seven seniors, none of which are expected to be in the deep pitching rotation. That spot’s reserved for those in the freshman-through-junior class.
The new campaign begins on the road Aug. 8 at Bainbridge, and the first time the Packers put on their show at Packer Park will be Aug. 13 vs. Coffee.
“We probably had the best summer I can remember,” said Pitts. “As far as practices and playing games and wins. Also, things I saw on the field were good. Also, I have a lot of returning players, not just starters but all the way to role players. We’re also excited about the group I have coming up with the (freshmen) and (sophomores). They seemed to gel pretty good over the summer. It’s hard to hold my excitement, but I’m trying. As a coach you try to hold it … I’m happy with the direction we’re going.”
Combine the underclassmen and the varsity team can be as much as 15 players strong. The infield is loaded with experience and potential for offensive and defensive excellence with Marlie Wingate, Kelsey Patel and Abeny Thomas. Sarah Harrell is back at catcher, and some of those role players in the senior class are Callie Faircloth and Brook Durrence. Super soccer scorer Chloe Gould was inserted into the varsity lineup last year as the centerfielder.
All in the junior class add varsity experience. The pitching tandem that got Colquitt through the 2018 season was Jade Horne and Kyla Morris. Pitts said Horne worked her way into the No. 1 spot, and Morris was clutch when it came to region games (12 strikeouts in a home win vs. Camden County). Abby Plymel showed her versatility going from the circle to being a near regular contributor at third base. When the junior varsity season ended, Katlynn Powers found a varsity spot and racked up some at-bats as the designated player.
“Can’t tell you enough of how excited I am and how pleased I am with the two freshmen,” said Pitts. “Madison Plymel and Emily Allegood. They’ve come up and not necessarily had a chip on their shoulder but have that confidence. They know they can play and that they belong. They’ve shown that so far.”
When it comes to pitching, it is usually said about the Packers that nobody has the blow-it-by-them stuff. Pitts was quick point out that is about to change with the emergence of Allegood.
“She’s the power pitcher,” he said. “She also can locate very well, which helps her out a lot. Emily can blow it by you. She is going to be the strikeout pitcher. We haven’t necessarily had that in years past.
“Horne is going to spot it up. She proved that last year. She’s going to get some strikeouts. Morris is going to rely a lot on off-speed and change-ups. I’m very pleased with her progress this summer.
“Also, we have coach (Melissa) Sutton back working with (the pitchers). She was a pitcher in college, All-American. She has been working with those pitchers day-in and day-out as far as bullpens and conditioning. She knows how it was when she played and is trying to incorporate that in this level. She is going to be a huge asset for us.”
Sutton is a former Colquitt County High softball assistant.
“They’ve battled all summer,” said Pitts about the competition for playing time. “I’m glad for a couple more weeks of practice and also the scrimmage (that took place July 30 at Fitzgerald) to fill in some spots. You have those seniors who have been out there. The freshmen and sophomores are pushing, which I think is a good thing. It’s making them work that much harder.”
And where Packer softball may see its biggest improvement is at the plate and their side of the scoreboard.
“If I had to say the biggest improvement this year, it’s how we hit the ball,” said Pitts. “We had several girls just hitting, something we haven’t had. We’ve struggled at the plate.
“I always felt defensively we were fine and always felt we had the pitching to win games. As these girls are maturing and getting older, that’s where we are improving.”
The significant change in the varsity softball schedule is that the number of Region 1-7A games doubled from six to 12.
Before, everyone faced each other just two times, but now there will be doubleheaders against all three rivals at Packer Park and at Lowndes, Tift County and Camden County. Pitts said this is something he pushed for in the region because one bad doubleheader could be costly in the standings and you may not get a chance to redeem yourself against the same club later.
“Lowndes is Lowndes,” said Pitts. “They are going to be coached well. They have players who did return. So we are going to have to play to beat them.
“Camden has their senior pitcher coming back whose been there since she was a freshman. With her, you never know. You have to go out there and hit her because she’s really good.”
Tift County maybe Pitts’ personal favorite outside of Moultrie as the Blue Devil program was taken over by his No. 1 assistant, Taylor Barber.
“They are going to get those girls going and motivated,” said Pitts. “There’s no ceiling for Tift. I see them competing in the region.
“Nothing’s going to be handed to you, but I feel so good about our group and our chances.”