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Posted: Friday, August 10th 2012 at 2:01pm

Lanier Point tourney provides area teams with road map for season

By Jeff Hart Staff
click to enlarge
Flowery Branch scores a run in last year's Lanier Pointe Tournament.
GAINESVILLE -- If high school fans thought last year’s Lanier Point Invitational softball tournament produced a few surprises, the 11th version of the tourney -- which begins Friday at the Lanier Point Softball Complex -- expects to be just as interesting.

Region re-alignment has created many new rivalries and schedules and the 16 teams from across north Georgia taking part in this year’s tournament will be hoping to see what is in store for them once the regular season games begin next week.

The two-day tournament will have four, four-team divisions playing a round-robin format to determine the top two teams in each division. Those eight teams will play for the title in the "gold" bracket while the bottom two teams will play in the "silver" bracket.

Last year, Union County -- fresh off a Class AA state runner-up finish to Buford in 2010 -- brought home the tournament title by knocking off a surprising East Hall team, which had just two wins in 2010.

The strategies employed by each team in early-season tournaments vary according to experience and talent. The Lady Panthers came into the tournament with the reigning Class AA Player of the Year in Angie Hughes, who is now at Lee University. This year, they will be trying to find a replacement.

“We came into last year’s tournament knowing what we had and came in looking to have a chance to win it,” Union County coach Jessica Stewart said. “This year, we’re looking to see what some of our players have and six games in two days will give us a chance to do that. But it’s also a little more relaxed because they aren’t region games.”

Lady Vikings coach Jenny Crow came into last year’s tournament trying to find her best nine players. She found them, and more.

“I felt we had a chance to be better (than in 2010) but I was a little surprised to make the finals,” Crow said. “But I was proud because they had worked hard all summer to show they were better (than what happened in 2010). The success at Lanier Point gave us confidence the rest of the year.”

East Hall went on to win 15 games in 2011, nearly as many than in the three previous seasons combined. Now, Crow, who had three players from last year’s squad move on to play at Truett-McConnell, will now take a different approach into the 2012 tournament.

“We feel we have talent to compete but we’re a much younger team this year and we’ll be looking to see what we have and try to figure out our best lineup for the season,” she said. “But our goal is going to be to try and get back to the gold bracket.”

Dawson County coach Jimmy Pruett said they, too, will be taking a more see-what-they-have approach. The Tigers have been led by Auburn commit Jenna Abbott the last two seasons but Abbott has been rehabbing a shoulder injury all summer and is limited to spot duty early in the season.

“We’re going to be using the tournament to see who can help us where during the season,” Pruett said. “We like to get all our players in in an early-season tournament like this. We won’t sacrifice a chance at a win but it’s good to know who can respond in pressure situations. We expect Jenna to see some action but she will be limited.”

First-pitch on Friday will be at 5 p.m. on all four fields at Lanier Point with pool play. The Red Pool will have Dawson County, Gainesville, Commerce, and Wesleyan. The White Pool will have West Hall, East Hall, Union County, and White County. The Blue Pool will have Jefferson, Johns Creek, Fannin County, and Habersham Central. The Gold Pool will have North Hall, Gilmer County, Rabun County, and Flowery Branch.

Saturday’s action will begin at 8 a.m. with pool play. The bracket rounds are scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. with the Silver bracket. The Gold bracket is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

The finals are slated to begin at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Associated Categories: Sports News, High School Sports

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