Lassiter, Kennesaw Mountain, Hillgrove, Harrison and Pope are all back for another shot at a state title.
The tournament, which begins Thursday at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus, will follow a double-elimination format until the champions are crowned Saturday. First-round games begin Thursday at 4:15 p.m. for Class AAAAA Pope, with the other four teams playing at 6 p.m. in the Class AAAAAA bracket.
Lassiter, the Region 5AAAAAA champion, enters the tournament as one of the favorites, and is one of five teams trying to snap Gwinnett County’s streak of five straight championships in the state’s highest classification.
Lassiter brought Cobb County its last title in 2007, before the Gwinnett streak started.
The Lady Trojans’ first-round opponent will be a familiar one as they take on Harrison (26-7). Lassiter (29-6) beat the Lady Hoyas in a doubleheader Sept. 25.
The Lady Trojans went 1-2 in Columbus last year, but they return as one of the team’s expected to win it all. They beat defending champion Archer to advance.
“There’s no pressure on us,” Lassiter coach Jason Campbell said. “We’re just going there to play, inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch. We control what we can control, which is ourselves.”
Campbell believes Collins Hill’s pedigree as a three-time state champion and third-place finisher at last year’s tournament makes them the favorite.
“They’ve won three state championships the last four years, and they’ve beaten the one team considered to be the best in the state regardless of classification, and that’s Buford,” Campbell said. “They have good pitching and good hitting and they’ll be tough to beat.”
Harrison, which went 0-2 at the state finals last season, made this year’s state tournament as the No. 3 seed from Region 4AAAAAA. The Lady Hoyas have won nine straight since the back-to-back losses to Lassiter, upsetting postseason opponents Luella and East Coweta to reach Columbus.
“We stopped making mistakes,” Harrison coach Matt Jones said of his team’s recent success. “All of the losses have been because of errors and walks. We eliminated that and we’re doing a good job pitching and making hits. We’ve continued to work on fundamentals and we’re doing this against good teams.”
Kennesaw Mountain (26-6), last year’s Class AAAAAA runner-up, is in the state finals for the fifth time in six years. It will open play against a team it lost 3-1 to during the regular season, Region 8AAAAAA champion Brookwood (23-11).
The Lady Mustangs are hoping to avoid a repeat of their trip to last year’s championship game, which went all the way through the losers’ bracket after an opening-day loss.
“We’ve lost the first game every year we’ve been to Columbus,” Kennesaw Mountain coach Lisa Chapman said. “We haven’t escaped that, but we have another chance to change that. I don’t think people even expected us to go back to the elite eight. We had to prove people wrong, and now that we’re here, hopefully we can relax and play good ball.”
Like Harrison, Hillgrove (28-7) also went 0-2 at last year’s finals. The Region 4AAAAAA runner-up is making its third straight trip to Columbus.
Hillgrove beat Newton and upset Region 1AAAAAA champion Lowndes to make the elite eight. The Lady Hoyas take on North Gwinnett (27-5) in the opening round.
“We were a young team last year, so this year we have more experience,” Hillgrove coach Laura Voyles said. “That could help us out. We worried about who we were playing last year instead of what’s going on in our own dugout. We have a different mentally this time, and we’re going to focus on our game and what we do.”
Pope (28-9) is Cobb County’s lone entrant from Class AAAAA. The Lady Greyhounds earned the state runner-up honor in their first appearance at the state finals last year, losing back-to-back games to Union Grove in the championship.
“These are two different seasons,” said Pope coach Chris Turco said. “We graduated some good seniors, so this is a different group with a different mindset. Our goal was to get to Columbus, and then try to win when we got here, not make up for what we lost last year.”
The No. 3 seed from Region 7AAAAA, Pope upset South Paulding and Heritage-Conyers to make the state finals. The Lady Greyhounds open with Region 4AAAAA champion Ola on Thursday.
Pope’s as hot as any team in its bracket, having won 20 of its last 22 games.
“We want to win the first one, and keep the momentum going,” Turco said. “Making it through a hostile environment at Heritage-Conyers was a watershed moment for us, and I think set us up to do well (in Columbus).”