RINGGOLD, Ga. - Asked to find something her team needs to improve upon in the final two weeks of the prep softball season, Ringgold coach Rachel Hodge had to hesitate.
She finally came to the conclusion that her freshman-and-sophomore-laden team might just be a little too easygoing.
"I guess sometimes I would like them to take it a little more seriously, but you want them to be loose and have fun," she said. "They're just loose up there, but they show up to play every game, so I can't complain. As a coach there's always little things you want to work on, but there are way too many positives on this team to get negative."
The Lady Tigers, last season's Class AAA state runners-up, head into the stretch run 19-4 overall and 11-0 in Region 5-AAA, so it's easy to see why Hodge had to search to come up with something even somewhat negative. The relaxed attitude, she said, is expected considering Ringgold regularly starts six freshmen and sophomores.
Hodge also said that approach -- and a good deal of the team's success -- is directly related to the play of senior four-year starters Chandlar Turner and Devan Brown.
"Both of them have played together since they were little, and they just work so hard every day," Hodge said. "They challenge each other and they work well with each other. What's so important is they teach the other girls, not by intimidation but by being awesome leaders. That's the reason why they're having such great years."
Turner has been perhaps northwest Georgia's most dangerous hitter with a .494 average, six home runs, six doubles, 27 RBIs and a slugging percentage right at .800. Brown, who has committed to Kennesaw State University, is hitting .420 with three homers, nine doubles, 26 RBIs, 26 runs scored and a .671 slugging rate. The two, as Hodge noted, are just as important as leaders on a team that badly needed them, and they each embrace that role.
"Being a leader means stepping up to the challenge and not letting the younger girls let up," Brown said.
Added Turner: "I looked up to our seniors when I was a freshman, and first of all they've got to earn their spot just like we did. It was iffy at the beginning of the season with the young girls because we just weren't sure, but they've more than stepped up. There are no worries now."
Each of the six youngsters -- sophomores Taylor Chadwick, Abby McKinney and Aime Davidson and freshmen Katie Cain, Karoline Sholl and Dare Schley -- is hitting over .300. It's part of the reason the Lady Tigers believe they again are state-title contenders.
"We can win it all this year if we continue to work hard," Turner said. "It wouldn't feel right if we didn't go back this year, because we've been every year. This time we have more speed and more contact hitters. I'm ready to go back and win it all."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.