MOULTRIE – Persistence pays off.
Chance Pitts has only been Colquitt County High softball coach for four seasons now, but it seems like forever that he made a short list of big goals for the program. Come 2019, with his largest senior class so far, he can start checking some boxes.
Like winning 20 games.
Up next, winning a region championship.
Last week, the Packers reached the 20-win plateau for the first time ever in fastpitch by sweeping Tift County High in the regular-season and 1-7A finale. The club now travels to Lowndes High today for the first two games of a best-of-3 playoff that will determine the region champion and No. 1 region seed for the GHSA tournament.
During the Pitts era, Colquitt softball already achieved some first-time milestones, like hosting state playoff competition. The Packers will do that again this month regardless of what happens at Lowndes.
But perhaps the highlight moment of the 2019 season so far came at Packer Park when Colquitt County defeated Lowndes (twice) for the first time under Pitts. The Packers were sitting on top of the region standings until the rematch with the Vikettes, who had the brooms on stand by and put them to use on their home diamond.
Road region losses to both Tift County and Camden County gave Lowndes the final edge for the No. 1 seed despite the head-to-head split with Colquitt.
It’s serious softball now, and what better way to prepare for state than to play a program as good as any the Pack will find in any of the seven Atlanta-area regions. There’s also an opportunity to overcome one more obstacle: beating Lowndes at Lowndes.
“It was a team effort … a special night,” said Pitts recalling the 4-1 and 7-4 wins over Lowndes on Aug. 29. “It was everybody playing together. The defense we played that night was outstanding. We limited our walks. I think (Lowndes) left a lot on base.”
The rematch was Sept. 19 with Lowndes winning 3-0 and 5-3.
“We didn’t play our game,” said Pitts. “We gave them every run in the first game. I think we had six errors in the infield alone. That was enough to give them what they needed, and we didn’t hit. It seemed defense carried over to the plate. It was uncharacteristic of this team, and I think the girls knew it. They are going to strive to not let that happen again.”
And that adds to the excitement of today’s games. Who will feel the most pressure? Pitts said there’s a “buzz” in the air about ending Lowndes’ three-year run as region champions.
“It’s going to be a fun atmosphere,” he said. “I feel there will be a lot of people there. Our fan base will be represented well.”
It then comes down to mindset, because the coach said they have the physical capabilities as a softball team. The Packers are on a four-game winning streak since the last visit to Valdosta, so they are playing well presently, and they know they can beat Lowndes.
What will go through Pitts’ mind before the first pitch is who will make that first pitch. The hot arm belongs to Jade Horne with the team leading earned run average of 1.44.
“Kyla Morris has done a great job, and Emily (Allegood) is Emily,” said Pitts about his other options. “That’s always great. Right now it’s to be determined.”
It may not be a mystery that the Packer bats will face Jolee Camp at some point in this doubleheader. She pitched the 3-0 shutout, but Colquitt got to her for the Game 1 win at Packer Park. But the Vikettes are also equipped to use at least three pitchers in a day.
Whether it is today or in the upcoming state playoffs next week, there isn’t likely to be any easy outs, any run-rule victims. It should take seven innings to win each game, but in the first two rounds it is also best-of-3 (just beat somebody twice before they do it to you).
“You have to step it up even more,” said Pitts. “It is good we do get that first series at home, and it’s either going to be North Paulding or Marietta. Those are two good opponents. Everybody in the Atlanta area normally is.
“Our main focus right now is on Lowndes and bringing that first region championship for fastpitch softball home. It’s a good test for sure. It’s a good series to prepare us for the playoffs. I keep going back to excited and fun. That’s how this year’s been. It’s going to be exciting and fun to see how the rest of the year plays out.”
And with a team average of .308 and 174 runs in 25 games, the Packers are going to be hard for anyone to handle. Abby Plymel is blistering the ball at a .442 clip with 18 RBI and 11 doubles. It’s been a big month for catcher Sarah Harrell with four of her five home runs.
“I’m comfortable with any girl who gets in the box,” said Pitts. “They can put the ball in play and do good things. Callie Faircloth … seems like she’s turned it on in the second half, especially in region play, and did a great job in the outfield making plays that’s kept us in games.”
The team leader in RBI is senior shortstop Kelsey Patel with 21, and right behind her is fellow senior Marlie Wingate’s 19.