Tigers straddle line of fun, business in first trip to Columbus

It's a fine line the Tigers are walking at Archer.

The fourth-year softball program earned its school's first trip to the state tournament in Columbus with a sweep of North Gwinnett last week, a feat worthy of celebrating. Yet, head coach Kris Daniels wants more from his team than just a few days of fun in Columbus.

"Everybody was very excited," Daniels said. "To get down there in our fourth year was a pretty big deal to these girls. We talked to the girls about how this trip down there, we don't want to go together just to have fun and make memories. We want to play ball and win games. We want to get them ready to play ball instead of playing around."

Daniels said he has little concern for his team's focus, led by senior pitcher and team leader Nani Cabrales, the Tigers reached the Elite Eight in business-like fashion with sweeps of Etowah and North Gwinnett.

"It's a pretty focused group," Daniels said. "I think they are ready to go."

And with a starting pitcher like Cabrales, they are very confident. The senior posted a 16-4 record this season with a 1.63 ERA and 136 strikeouts. At the plate, she his .424 with four homers and 24 RBIs. She has pitched in every playoff game this postseason.

"Nani is just a special athlete," Daniels said. "She makes everyone around her better just by her ability to hit and pitch. Teams focus on her and other batters see better pitches and pitching-wise everybody is confident behind her because they know she is going to throw strikes and they want to make plays for her."

But Archer is more than just Cabrales.

Junior Alesha Mann, who moved to the lead-off spot for this season, scored 27 runs for the Tigers and hit .385 and drove in 20 runs during the regular season. The three-year starter is versatile enough to hit for power or reach with her speed.

"She gives us a lot of options," Daniels said.

Senior Alliyah Williams hit .382 in the regular season and freshman Jacqui Switzer has only built on her strong regular season with bases clearing doubles against both Etowah and North.

"She's kind of showed up big in those games for us," Daniels said. "She has kind of stepped up her game here in the playoffs."

And it's hard to step up from a regular season of 21 RBIs, 26 runs scored and a .358 average in her first year playing varsity softball.

"That's a tough thing for these kids to do," Daniels said of young players improving during the more intense postseason. "It's easy when there is no pressure and nobody is watching, but when everybody is watching, it's a little different."

And only more eyes show up in Columbus. Giving Daniels and the Tigers another line to straddle; the line between excitement and calm.

"We have really hammered home the fact that we can only control what we do," Daniels said. "We can only make the plays we can make. It's helped them live in the moment.

"They aren't going to score five runs on one swing, they aren't going to get four outs in one play. Hopefully we can continue to step up."