With a return trip to the elite eight last season, Allatoona established itself as one of the state’s rising programs. This year, the Lady Buccaneers have risen to No. 3 in Class AAAAA, and find themselves as one of the favorites to make it back to the finals in Columbus.
Even though Allatoona didn’t fare as well as it would have liked, going 1-5 at the Brookwood Invitational this weekend to fall to 17-9 on the season, tonight’s matchup at Rome could set the table for another deep playoff run.
“The teams we played at Brookwood aren’t like the teams we’ve faced in the region, so this was a good test for us and it was something we needed,” Allatoona coach Troy Pirkle said. “We lost to South Paulding on Thursday, but if we beat Rome (tonight), we win the regular season and get the top seed in our region for the tournament. The top seed gets to host (all of next week’s) tournament games.”
Allatoona’s strong season can be attributed to one simple word: balance. Through Thursday’s Region 5AAAAA South Paulding game, the Lady Buccaneers were hitting at a .318 clip as a team and totaling nearly six runs per game. With a lineup comprised of two freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors and two seniors, Allatoona has gotten production from up and down the batting order throughout the year.
“We have a couple of kids with speed, so when they hit the ball in the gap, they’re going for extra bases,” Pirkle said. “The defense just can’t make the plays on them. These girls hit the gaps and run like crazy, which has been big part of our success.”
Pirkle is referring to four players, specifically, who keep the offense going in an inning. Junior second baseman Erika Dunbar and sophomore center fielder Madisyn Escue provide speed, while senior catcher Jessica Finch and sophomore right fielder Morgan Kazerooni provide power. As a unit, they lead the team in batting averages, RBIs and extra-base hits.
“Dunbar hits second in the lineup and Finch is No. 3,” Pirkle said. “Kaz in the No. 5 hole and Escue bats ninth. They’re just spread out in the batting order and their production keeps us balanced on offense.
“Our cleanup hitter gets walked and hit by pitches a lot, so her on-base percentage is great. It’s about the same for our leadoff hitter. Folks are just finding ways to get on base.”
Adding to Allatoona’s success is the performance of its pitchers sophomores Casey Lewis and Makenzie Colwart. Lewis was the No. 2 pitcher on varsity last year and Colwart is in her first varsity season.
“They’re both getting it done and making quality pitches with Finch, our senior catcher, directing them both,” Pirkle said. “They don’t throw a lot of strikes, but they’re getting outs with a solid defense behind them. They give us a chance to win every game.”
Allatoona’s success this season didn’t really come as a surprise to Pirkle. Given how he often mixes talented young players with solid veterans, he expects the Lady Buccaneers to be region championship contenders and state playoff hopefuls every year.
“I knew we had a chance to do well in region this year, which we have,” he said. “I didn’t know where we’d fall in the standings, but I thought we’d do well against the teams in this region. We’re hanging right there with them.
“Big picture-wise, we’re shooting for the region championship and to make it back to Columbus. We have some talented kids with an opportunity to get it done.”