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High hopes for LHS softball team

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

She’s ready to see her players.

For more than two months, high-school sports teams in Georgia have been unable to hold face-to-face meetings because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s about to change.

Beginning on Monday, teams will be able to begin voluntary summer conditioning, and while there will be plenty of restrictions in place, it is a starting point.

Gabby Heath, the head coach of the LaGrange High girls’ softball team, is just grateful that she’ll be able to spend time with her players after such a long absence.

“I’m glad that we’re working out,” Heath said. “If we couldn’t work out, I’d asked if we could all just sit six feet away and just have team-bonding time. That’s what we really need. We’re used to always being together. I’m just really glad that no matter what we’re doing we’ll be together.”

The Georgia High School Association has issued a list of guidelines teams will need to follow when they get together next week.

Teams will not be able to use softballs or other game-related equipment, and there can’t be more than 20 people in a group, and that includes players and coaches.

“Our high-school girls will come from 12:45 to 2 p.m., and then they’ll sanitize, and our Gardner Newman kids will come from 2:15 to 3:30,” Heath said. “We’ll do a mixture of things. We’ll do the weight room, but we’ll also go down to the field so we can have some open space to do speed and agility. We can be on the field, but we can’t use balls, or anything like that.”

The hope is that in a few weeks, perhaps following the dead week the week of July 4th, things will loosen up and teams will begin to hold normal practices.

“We want to get used to the heat, too,” Heath said. “That’s part of the reason we’re going outside. We’ve all been inside in the air conditioning. We haven’t been outside like we normally would. We’re trying to get them back into shape, so that when we do come back hopefully after the dead week, we’ll all be ready.”

LaGrange is coming off an exceptional 2019 season. The Lady Grangers went 24-13, finished second in Region 5-AAAA, and reached the eight-team state finals in Columbus for the first time in more than a decade.

Most of the key players from that team, including six seniors, will return for the 2020 season that is scheduled to begin in August.

The primary goal for this team is to make it through to the final day of the state finals and have a chance to win a state championship.

Last year, LaGrange lost both of its games in the state finals.

“We just have a really great opportunity this year, just like we did last year, to be successful,” Heath said. “I know our girls want it. Our coaches have really talked about making it to Saturday (in Columbus). We made it Thursday through Friday last year, so this year let’s make it to Saturday.”

Heath’s hope is that, if the team does make it back to Columbus, last year’s experience will benefit the players.

“I think we’re going to be more seasoned,” Heath said. “Even though they were prepared, none of them had been in that type of environment before. They’re more seasoned now. Now when they get there, they won’t see it as a huge barrier, a huge mountain to climb. They’ll be more comfortable with it.”

Leading the way are the six seniors, all of whom played critical roles on last year’s team.

That group includes pitcher Camden Smith, infielders Abby Vanhoose, Madison Dennis, Kirsten Williams and and Jacee Marable, and outfielder Malone Aldridge.

Most of the seniors have been starting since they were freshman.

“I coached a lot of them when they were younger,” Heath said. “I coached Abby Vanhoose when she was 10, 11 and 12 in travel ball, and Jacee and Camden played for me when they were 11 and 12. So I’m known them a long time.”

LaGrange will be in a new region this season.

After playing in Region 5-AAAA the past four years, LaGrange is moving into Region 2-AAAA this fall along with Troup, Carver, Columbus, Hardaway, Jordan, Kendrick, Shaw and Spencer.

The Lady Grangers will play each region opponent once, giving them a chance to play some quality non-region foes in preparation for the state tournament.

“We need to play people like Central-Carroll, and Harris County,” Heath said. “We need to play better competition to prepare for postseason.”