When longtime Greenbrier coach Garrett Black announced his retirement in September, effective at the end of the season , senior Nicole Rogers said she and her Lady Wolfpack teammates picked up their efforts.
After finishing as the Region 3-AAAAAA runner-up, Greenbrier swept Lovejoy at home and then Lee County on the road in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Now, the Lady Wolfpack are back in the Elite Eight, and Black has one final chance to add a third state championship.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the world,” Rogers said. “All we wanted was a chance to go to Columbus, and that’s what we gave him.”
Greenbrier (26-9) will open the Class AAAAAA Tournament against Cambridge at 11 a.m. Thursday in Columbus, Ga. The winner will play the Houston County-Creekview winner at 7 p.m. The loser will play the Houston County-Creekview loser at noon Friday in the double-elimination event.
Rachel Crowe leads the Lady Wolfpack with a .427 batting average, while Carrintyn Greene is hitting .379 with five homers and 30 RBI. Pitcher Beth Romanowski sports a 13-2 record.
“It’s special,” said Black, who is making his 18th Elite Eight appearance in 22 years. He won state titles in 2004 and 2014. “We’ve had our down moments and we’ve had our up moments. It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster. But it looks like we might be playing our best ball at the right time.”
On the other side of the Class AAAAAA bracket, Evans (27-2) will open play against Pope at 11 a.m. Thursday. The winner will advance to play the Allatoona-Effingham County winner at 7 p.m. The loser will face the Allatoona-Effingham County loser at 10 a.m. Friday.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Lady Knights coach Ricky Beale, who’s making his first Elite Eight appearance in his second year leading the softball program. “We have as good a chance as anybody.”
Evans features pitcher Leah Powell, who is 22-0 with a 0.79 ERA and 152 strikeouts and 29 walks in 132.2 innings. Powell also leads the team with 14 homers and 41 RBI, along with a .474 batting average. Morgan Johnson leads the team with a .494 average and is followed by Diamond Williams (.455) and Sydney Baker (.420).
“If we keep swinging the bats like we’ve been swinging them and keep pitching like we’ve been pitching,” Beale said, “we’ll be fine.”
In Class AA, defending state champion Harlem (23-6) is back after graduating six seniors. The Lady Bulldogs play Banks County at 3 p.m. Thursday in the tournament opener. The winner will advance to play the Monticello-Bleckley County winner at 9 p.m. The loser will play the Monticello-Bleckley County loser at noon Friday.
Harlem features pitcher Skyler Wiggins, who owns a 15-4 record with a 1.59 ERA, 112 strikeouts and 39 walks in 88 innings. Wiggins also is hitting .500, with two homers and nine doubles. Aleja Dorsey leads the Lady Bulldogs with a .545 average and is followed by Ashton VanHouse (.538).
“I am so proud to go back to the Elite Eight, because we lost six seniors,” Harlem coach Mike Leverett said. “Early in the year, all I heard was that we were rebuilding.”
Now, the Lady Bulldogs have a chance to win their second consecutive state championship.
“When you get here, everybody’s got good pitching,” Leverett said. “If we keep swinging the bats like we’ve been doing and pitching like we have been, we have a chance.”
Elite Eight Softball
Evans vs. Pope, 11 a.m.
Greenbrier vs. Cambridge, 11 a.m.
Note: Winners will play again at 7 p.m. Losers will play again at 10 a.m. Friday. Championship game will be held noon Saturday.
Harlem vs. Banks County, 3 p.m.
Note: Winner plays again at 9 p.m. Loser plays again at noon Friday. Championship game will be held noon Saturday.