at South Commons Complex in Columbus
Thursday opening games
Northwest Whitfield vs. Ola, 3:30
Heritage vs. West Laurens, 3:30
Ringgold vs. Cross Creek, 3:30
Lakeview-F.O. vs. Bleckley County, noon
Fannin County vs. Pike County, noon
Gordon Lee vs. Bryan County, noon
Six teams in four classes will represent the greater Chattanooga area in the GHSA state softball tournament in Columbus beginning Thursday, each with a different storyline.
Gordon Lee (33-1) will attempt to repeat its Class A championship, and ranked teams Northwest Whitfield (25-6) in Class AAAA and Heritage (29-7) and Ringgold (24-12) in Class AAA will be among the favorites in loaded fields.
The most interesting plot by far resides in Class AA, where only three of the eight teams are ranked and where two area teams with diverse histories are among the dark horse candidates.
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (24-10) is no stranger to Columbus, having made four previous trips under coach Tony Ellis and eight under program founder Chip Liner. The Lady Warriors, though, are still seeking their first title. And since the team graduated star pitchers Maddie Bray and Monica Vickery and got off to a slow start, few would have predicted an Elite Eight berth.
However, after a second-round sweep at top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian last week, LFO is being mentioned as a threat to four-time champion Buford.
"Don't know if it would the unlikeliest LFO team to make it, but it is the least expected to win it," said Ellis, whose team opens with third-ranked Bleckley County (23-6). "I think Buford is the favorite, but I do think it's wide open, as wide open as any time I've been there. I really believe any of the eight can win it, and we have as good a shot as anyone."
Also among those eight is first-time title contender Fannin County (21-14). Coach David Dyer's team won a thrilling deciding game three at Dade County in round one, then defeated Lovett in the second round. He insists just getting there isn't enough for a team blessed with five seniors.
"I want them to enjoy getting there but not to be in awe of the surroundings or the competition," said Dyer, whose team begins play against Pike County (23-6). "It's like in the movie 'Hoosiers': The field has the same dimensions, the balls are the same and so are the rules. We know there are going to be some nerves, but once we get by an inning or two, we'll be fine. Make no mistake, we're going there to win it."