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2006 softball preview: Collins Hill looks for encore to 2005 state title

Gwinnett softball was so tough last season that Collins Hill didn't win its own region - Mill Creek took that honor - but still fought its way out of sectionals and won the Class AAAAA state championship.

It will be equally competitive this season, but Collins Hill has the talent to be in the mix when the state playoffs come back around.

Sure, graduation took some top players like Tamara Perkins, Samantha Peters, Jessica Martin and Shelley Jenkins. But coach Amy Cook likes what the players coming back have to offer.

Five Eagle starters return from the state title team, led by standout pitcher Libby Munson. Munson's steady postseason efforts propelled Collins Hill to its terrific run last year, when it won the school's first softball title.

Infielders Kara Pollock (.318 batting average, 19 RBIs) and Rebecca Roles also are returning starters, as are outfielders Angela Clay and Carmen Fowler.

Key newcomers are expected to be third baseman Kathleen Pulliam, catcher Caroline Cooper, pitcher Erin Collins and outfielder Catherine Palmer.

Class AAAAA

Region 7-AAAAA

Duluth Wildcats

The Wildcats were young last season, but they hope a year of experience means more success.

Five starters are back in shortstop Emily Chavis , catcher Olivia McGehee, outfielder Kristen Colburn, utility player Christina Holt and pitcher Paula Manowski. Ashley Davidson, Tara Johnson, Courtney Conley, Megan Flores, Mack Mack and Abby Baines also are expected to be contributors along with a talented freshman group that includes Chantelle Curinton, Emily Nicholos, Moriah Bowman, Courtney Schmude, Ivy Knox, Katie Peszko, Audrey Fortmann, Samantha Martin and Megan Lipps.

Mill Creek Hawks

The ability to produce runs will be a major key for the Hawks since their pitching and defense should be strengths, as they were in last year's 23-9-1 season.

The defending Region 7-AAAAA champions are led by dominant pitcher Katy Hackett (16-2, 0.10 ERA) and an effective No. 2 pitcher in Bethany Ullrich (8-2, 0.32 ERA), who also doubles as a center fielder. Catcher/infielder Maggie Davis, infielder Lindsay Anderson, shortstop Erica Moore (.317 batting average), second baseman Hannah Graham, utility player Amberlie Saxton (.338 batting average) and outfielders Danielle LaDuron and Brittany Singer also are returning starters. Key newcomers include Morgan Bullock, Chelsea Lee and Lauren Stimis.

Norcross Blue Devils

Youth will play a pivotal role this year for the Blue Devils as senior leader Allison Klibanoff is joined by a lineup of sophomores and freshmen. Klibanoff and sophomores Lauren Kinney, Jamie Silvester and Katie Bostick are the team's only returning starters from a 14-13 squad.

Important newcomers for Norcross are junior Nicole Jones, sophomores Anisha Dixon and Lauren Purvis and freshmen Samantha Findling, Heidi Shape, Dianna Gottlieb and Sarah Moseley.

North Gwinnett Bulldogs

North reached a No. 1 ranking during last season and eventually made the state finals, but a big graduation loss of pitcher Jessica Batten must be replaced if a return trip to state is in order.

Sophomore Mary Beth O'Rouke (1.13 ERA) will handle the pitching for a team that should be solid on offense and defense. Brianna Hesson (.353 average, 29 RBIs) leads the offense while right fielder Katie Fullem, center fielder Emily Whitaker, infielder Katie McDannald (second on team with 18 RBIs) and catcher Emily Althafer also are important players.

Peachtree Ridge Lions

The Lions hope to build on last year's 22-10-1 season with a lineup that includes eight returning starters, most notably pitcher Jackie Samuels. Samuels had 18 wins in 2005 with a 0.56 ERA and nine shutouts.

Outfielder Rhea Taylor also is coming off an impressive season in which she hit .362, scored 22 runs and stole 17 bases. Jackie Gonzalez, Kayla Miller, Megan Gourdeau, Chelsea Parrish, Callie Fernandez and Emily Osterhaus also were starters last season while Peachtree Ridge should get a lift from young players that were on just a two-loss JV team last season. GAC transfer Kensi Weir also should be a contributor.

Region 8-AAAAA

Berkmar Patriots

Pitcher Cat Tarvin has the ability to keep the Patriots, who were 14-18 a year ago, close in games, a good start for coach Mike Lancaster's team. Tarvin had a perfect game, a no-hitter, a one-hitter and three two-hitters last season.

Tarvin is joined by returning starters Sam Boeshore (catcher), Carrie Smith (second base), Nikki Threat (third base), Erica Joseph (shortstop) and Leiah Clark (outfield), a group that has been the nucleus of the Berkmar team the past three seasons.

Brookwood Broncos

After losing star pitcher Lisa Norris, not much was expected from the Broncos last season but they reached sectionals and pushed eventual state champion Collins Hill to the brink before falling in a tough elimination game.

A young team will try to improve on last year's 24-16-2 record, and seniors Christina Hartlage (first base) and Jamie Van der Sluys (pitcher/infelder) will be relied on as leaders. Shortstop Kacie Shields (out with an injury until mid-September), center fielder Jamey Chapman and third baseman Meredith Hallman are returning starters.

Central Gwinnett Black Knights

The Black Knights will have a different look this season after losing eight players, seven to graduation and one to a transfer, off last year's 15-15-4 team that advanced to sectionals.

Only senior center fielder Stephanie Peet and senior right fielder Kim Smith return as starters from last year. They will be joined by key players Heather McAfee at pitcher and Caitlin Moyer at pitcher. Freshmen Allyssa Pane, Rosie Bish and Katie New should provide a lift.

Grayson Rams

The Region 8-AAAAA runner-up last year, Grayson returns six starters who look to improve on that 24-15-1 season.

Catcher Amanda Hutcheson (team-high .357 batting average), shortstop Shannon Bear, second baseman Ally Winham, outfielder Blake Wilson, first baseman Lauren Mathis and pitcher Mandi Burns all started last season and they are joined by other key players Hannah McKay, Ashley Berger and Sayler Hasty. Ayesha Famble, Hayley Downs and Katy Lewis are the top newcomers.

Meadowcreek Mustangs

After struggling to be competitive in recent years, the Mustangs (three wins in 2005) should fare much better this season by playing a non-region schedule.

Shortstop Kasey Murray, second baseman Brittany Hammond, center fielder Aaryn Sells and pitcher/first baseman Brittanie McCain are top returners for Meadowcreek along with Adrienne Uew, Kadyja Cooper and Manh-Siamy Soumahoro.

Newcomers of note are Jalyssa Martinez, Karrie McGrew, Nawasca Baity, Shontae Greenleaf and Loreal Mapson.

Parkview Panthers

The Panthers, 17-14 last season, are led by four-year starter Kim Stercay. The senior shortstop hit .429 with 19 RBIs, seven doubles and six triples last year.

Three-year starter Courtney Folsom, out most of last season with a knee injury, should improve the offense. Parkview also has Kelly Croxton, a three-year starter at pitcher, and senior catcher Angie Boring. Sophomores Jaime Dennis, Jordan DeArmon and Jennifer Wormley have a chance to make an impact.

Shiloh Generals

The Generals are led by perhaps the county's top hitter, star shortstop Megan Wiggins. Wiggins hit .450 with 10 doubles, three triples and a homer last season to go with a .577 on-base percentage.

Other key returning players are pitchers Natalie Jones and Danielle Tippins, and center fielder Ellyse Anderson, who had a.356 batting average last season. Shiloh returns 11 players from last year's team.

South Gwinnett Comets

Five starters are back for South, which went 21-12-2 last year and won the Region 8-AAAAA championship. Two of the returning starters are senior leaders, catcher Erin Jones (.292 batting average, 14 RBIs) and center fielder Mandy Weir (.327 average, 15 RBIs), and they spark a team that will be strong offensively and defensively.

Juniors Hanna Ennis (shortstop), Aimee Koehlke (second base) and right fielder Liza Rackett also started last season for the Comets, who also expect big things from juniors Collete Rollins and Mary White. White has an important role is filling the team's weakness at pitcher, where Sasha Philpot (pitched 205 of team's 214 innings last year) was a graduation loss.

Class AAAA

Dacula Falcons

A drop down in class should make the Dacula program, a solid 19-10 team in Class AAAAA last season, one of the powers in its new region, 8-AAAA.

Helping the cause is a veteran team led by senior pitcher Alanna Hadley, also a power hitter. Hadley and shortstop Chelsea Garrett each hit .343 last season. They're joined by fellow seniors Sheri Rockefeller, Brandi Baggett, Shelby Robinson, Casey Lecates and Kristina Neal. Youngsters Sarah Bentley and Kelsea Martin also are vital players.

Class AA

Buford Wolves

The Wolves have become one of AA's best programs under previous coach Brandon Manders, and they hope it continues under new coach Jacob Travis.

Travis inherits a four-year starter at pitcher with Jesse Groves, who was 20-7 with a 0.26 ERA last season and also hit .347. Three-year starters Melissa Higginbotham (11-3 as pitcher, 1.30 ERA, 19 RBIs as hitter) and Kelly Tucker also are back as well as key players Jennifer Tucker and Ashley Razey, a Central Gwinnett transfer. Razey hit .316 with 16 RBIs last season at Central.

Lauren Thornton, Megan Reese, Nichole Bell, Tanesha Anderson, Whitney Holman and Shelbi Valek also figure into the Buford playing

rotation.

GAC Spartans

Hopes are high for the Spartans despite the setback of losing star pitcher Jessica Coan, who looks be sidelined for at least two months. Coan had a 26-9 record last year with 497 strikeouts and a 0.36 ERA.

The goals are lofty for Greater Atlanta Christian because six other starters return - first baseman Julio Stephens, shortstop Kinsey Davis, third baseman Janey Elrod, catcher Mollie Mitchell, second baseman Reagan Page and left fielder Mady Baker. Pitchers Kelsey McDavid, Victoria Sink and Carly Busbee need to pick up the slack in Coan's absence. Chaney Means, Austin Macenczak, Stephanie Pendleton and Kamarin Moon are other key players.

Wesleyan Wolves

New head coach Nichole Dixon inherits some solid veteran players off a Wesleyan team that reached the state finals for the first time last year.

Senior pitcher Missy Genthert leads the way and she gets pitching help this year from sophomore Paige Hamlin, who also is a valuable field player. Fellow seniors Katie Stutzman (first base), Amy Spingola (shortstop) and Ali Bagdy (second base) also are key players along with junior catcher Whitney Warren.

Class A

Hebron Lions

Lindsey Gillis, a 2001 Hebron grad, takes over as head coach of her alma mater this season.

The Lions' top players include pitcher/third baseman Nicole Smith, pitcher/second baseman Rachel Duval, shortstop Meredith Montgomery, second baseman/third baseman Megan Griffin and first baseman Mindy Montgomery.

Providence Stars

The perenially strong Stars went 15-18 in 2005, but have higher hopes for a team led by four-year starting catcher Danielle Johnston and three-year starting pitcher Hannah Reiswig. Second baseman Cassi Flowers also is a three-year starter.

Providence got a boost from transfer Brittany Ellington, who should help at shortstop and pitcher, and freshman infielder Cory Rodgers. Other key players include Daron Dominguez, Liz Langley, Kendal White, Caitlin McDowell, Courtney Frazier, Breanna Thompson and Rachel Reiswig.