COVINGTON - The Alcovy softball team is heading into a new region with high hopes.
"I've got high hopes with the team we've got this year. They've got heart and soul. This team has come together friendship-wise better than any team so far," Alcovy softball coach Casey Bates said. "Our first goal is to make it to the region tournament; the second goal is to win. We want to make it one step further then we did last year, make it to sectionals."
The switch to Region 4-AAAA is another reason for Bates' optimism this season.
Gone from the Lady Tigers' region schedule are powerhouses such as Eastside, Dacula and Loganville.
In Region 4-AAAA, Alcovy will have a better chance of getting out of the region tournament and advancing to the Class AAAA South Sectional, instead of finishing eighth like the Lady Tigers
did last season in Region 8-AAAA.
"We talked to other people and they say it's going to help us out. But you never can tell. I think they'll be four or five teams that will be like us. I don't think they'll be five or six Eastsides. But I don't think they'll be five or six Cedar Shoals that everybody just walked over," Bates said. "I think they'll be a lot more teams that are closer, a lot more competition. It'll be good for us."
Entering their third year, the Lady Tigers are going to have a very young team, consisting of three seniors and juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen.
Even though the team is going to be young again, it does have experience. Nine of the 17 girls on the team played for Alcovy last year.
Although Macy Dowdy did not wear the black and gold last season, she has experience having played at Eastside.
"With the kids we've got coming in and the solid team we had last year, I can put any of those kids out there and they'll make the plays, hopefully," Bates said. "We're looking for defense and pitching to be our strong points."
Just like last season, Dallas Hardin will take her place on the mound as the Lady Tigers' starting pitcher. Helping her along the way will be freshman Caitlin Williams and sophomore Summer Kusch.
The infield will also have its share of returning starters.
When Hardin is pitching, senior Johnna Bagley will be at shortstop, but, when someone else is pitching, look for Bagley to move to second base.
First base is still a toss-up between senior Kelly Azar and sophomores Kelsey Sweat and Summer Kusch.
Behind the plate will be either Sweat or freshman Andrea Melton, while her big sister, junior Amber Melton, will be at third.
While the infield is solid, Bates is concerned about the outfield after losing two starters from last season.
"We cut our errors in half in the infield from the year before. We've got plenty of infielders. We just need to find some outfielders that can make the plays," Bates said. "We'll put the best three out there, whether or not we'll have to find someone else to put in the infield because our best infielders have to go out there, so be it."
Vying for playing time in the outfield are juniors Maycee Smith and Callie Dean, sophomores Melody Belcher, Jasmine Tolen, Ashden Middlebrooks, Bethany Dillard and freshman Samantha Cronan along with Williams and Kusch.
Also competing for a spot in the starting lineup is freshman Jamie Watson.
"We lost three games last year that I remember for mistakes in the outfield. The year before we lost eight games because of mistakes in the outfield," Bates said. "I told them this year is a clean slate. We're not going to lose because of outfield mistakes."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.