Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Kinsley Jennings (7) delivers a pitch to a Lambert hitter during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. North Gwinnett defeated Lambert 8-0 in game one.
Immediately after North Gwinnett finished off a 4-0 Game 3 win over Lambert, the Bulldogs, attention shifted.
They know their next opponent in the Class AAAAAA softball playoffs well and the returning players have bitter memories of the Archer Tigers.
Archer eliminated North Gwinnett a season ago in the first round of the state playoffs, silencing the Bulldogs' bats, to win 3-0 and 1-0. Tigers pitcher Kanani Cabrales dominated in both games.
"We did discuss that last year they put us out," North head coach Randy Black said of the team's postgame talk."They still have that same pitcher and she is a very good pitcher."
North begins its series with Archer with a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Wednesday at North. If needed, the deciding Game 3 is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.
Cabrales hasn't slowed down this year, going 16-4 in the regular season with a 1.36 ERA and 136 strikeouts.
"It's not going to be something different (in facing Cabrales)," Black said. "We are just going to have to take advantage and be selective up at the plate. Hopefully, they'll help us out a little bit if we put it in play."
It's that small difference Black is seeking. Last year, Cabrales rarely had a Bulldog on base and the defense watched plenty of strikeouts.
"Hopefully, she'll be human this series," Black said.
The Bulldogs have plenty of bats to hack away at Cabrales. In the series win over Archer, Mallory Koepke had six hits, including a three-run home run, and she drove in four in the three games.
"She got us going (in Game 3)," Black said.
Then there was Kendall McKinney, who terrorized the Longhorns in the blowout first game, going a perfect 3-for-3 with a walk, a double, a home run, three runs scored and two RBIs. She was 2-for-4 in Game 2 with an RBI.
"She had a fantastic series," Black said.
North will need that to continue against Archer. Plus it will need some pitching of its own.
Juniors Kinsely Jennings and Hannah Harrison will get the bulk of the work for the Bulldogs. Combined, the two ended the year 18-3.
But these are higher stakes and Black said you can feel the difference in the dugout. This isn't a tournament in summer ball or even a region game; it's the playoffs.
"They are definitely different (games) because these girls know there is a definite start and finish to softball in high school. It really matters," Black said. "My gray hairs are getting grayer every day. But I'd rather be getting gray hairs than sitting home and reading in the paper who wins the next day."
Yes, this is the playoffs. Yes, this is Archer. But Black said he doesn't view this as a revenge series for his Bulldogs, just another step to take.
"I don't know that getting back at them would be the thing. Our girls, we would want to win no matter who we were facing," Black said. "They have a lot of pride and don't really want to be beat by the same girls. They know they are good and if we give everything we've got and they still beat us, we'll keep our heads up. If we give it all we've got, we've got a chance and we'll take any kind of luck we can get."