That’s likely the feeling among softball fans about the recent results that have befallen local teams at the state championships in Columbus the past couple of years.
Lassiter was the last team to take home a state title, after it bested Peachtree Ridge in 2007. Before that, Kell won back-to-back crowns in 2003 and 2004.
Since then, as many as five different teams have been in the running for a championship. Harrison and Allatoona finished as runners-up in 2010, Hillgrove placed third in 2011 and Kennesaw Mountain and Pope were runners-up in their respective classifications last season.
Kennesaw Mountain battled all the way through the Class AAAAAA losers’ bracket before falling to Archer, while Union Grove shocked Pope with two wins in the Class AAAAA championship series.
“The level of competition has grown so much throughout the state that teams have just been more competitive,” said Kennesaw Mountain coach Lisa Chapman, who led the Lady Mustangs to a team record in wins last season (33) and has logged 309 career wins in 13 years.
“Some of it’s just timing and who’s playing better that weekend, or even at that moment. Cobb’s putting out good teams, but it’s been timing and luck that played a role the last few years.
Pope coach Chris Turco, who guided the Lady Greyhounds to their first region title, first state runner-up crown and a team record for wins (28) in 2012, echoed Chapman’s sentiment.
“There’s nothing the county needs to correct,” he said. “Sometimes, that’s just the way the ball bounces. We’ve had success in the past, and we continue to have success now. It’s hard to even get that far in the playoffs, and to have (the county’s) teams play for championships the past couple of years is a testament to how hard the players and the coaches and the communities work to get them in those positions.
“We’re getting there. We’re just not getting the bounces. That will change, eventually.”
Helping to lead the charge will be two key returners, Kennesaw Mountain’s Malea Bell and Pope’s Kelly Barnhill, the Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County player and pitcher of the year last season, respectively.
Both players have their eyes on successful seasons again, for themselves and their teams.
“I want to work harder than last year and help the team work harder, too,” Bell said. “I want to help them push towards getting better and making it further than we did at state last year.
“We lost a lot of starters, but a lot of our younger players got experience during the season and at state. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to last year, but that’s made us push ourselves even more.”
Barnhill was a force to be reckoned with in the circle in leading the Lady Greyhounds. An offseason knee injury that required surgery will likely keep her out of action this month, but she is expected back towards the beginning of September, just in time for several of the team’s region contests.
While Kennesaw Mountain and Pope challenge for return trips to the state finals, plenty of other teams are hoping to have that chance as well.
Likely challengers to Kennesaw Mountain in Region 4AAAAAA will be Harrison, Hillgrove, North Cobb and South Cobb, which returns several of its starters from last year’s record-setting 20-win team.
Pope should see plenty of challengers in Region 7AAAAA, with Pope, Kell, Creekview and Sequoyah all yielding identical 8-2 region records last year. Forsyth Central and Sprayberry should be much-improved as well.
Lassiter will contend in Region 5AAAAAA along with Etowah, Cherokee and Milton, while Whitefield Academy and Walker hope to earn a strong enough placement in the power rankings to earn a playoff spot out of Region 6A.
Allatoona is hoping to repeat its Region 5AAAAA championship from a season ago, but it will likely have to contend with a slew of competitors, including South Paulding, Paulding County, Woodland-Bartow and Hiram.