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Coach Allen picks his team

POSTED: July 30, 2014 1:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Jennifer Dye lays down a bunt during batting practice Tuesday at Apalachee High School.

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For a first-year coach, Matt Allen of Apalachee High School softball is ready to get the season going. 

With classes starting back on Friday and the student-athletes trying to get back into the swing of things, Apalachee softball has been undergoing preparations for tryouts for the majority of the week.

For Apalachee’s head varsity softball coach Matt Allen, that means narrowing down a great pool of talent and condensing them into one all-around solid team. With so much talent to choose from, Allen has to make difficult decisions based on often small differences.

“I’ve mostly been narrowing my focus on specific skills that players are capable of showing and figuring out which positions they can help us out at,” Allen explained. “I’ve got a general idea of who can hit the ball right now and hwo can catch it, but I need to see who can play at what positions.

“Frankly, I’ve had so many come out that I’m going to keep a large number.”

Allen did make a distinction between some of the older young women who will play at the varsity level and some of the younger athletes who will likely fill a spot on the JV roster, saying that the varsity players are working on position-specific skills while the JV folks are spending time on more general player and skill development.

“We’re going to have a big group and a large part of that is going to be the younger players, but with the varsity level I’m going to try and narrow down who can play at what position,” Allen added. “It’s no secret that I’ve got a pretty good pitcher.”

Returning starter Becca Meade has often been considered one of the best pitchers in Region 8-AAAAA softball. Until recently, she was only considered one of the best because of an ace pitcher at Heritage, Kierra Camp, but that roadblock has gone on to Georgia Southern.

Now, Meade has a shot at being alone at the top of the podium as far as the pitching conversation in Region 8-AAAAA is concerned. Meade has not yet practiced with Apalachee this week as she is currently pitching in a national tournament through her travel team, but she will return shortly.

“Once she returns on Monday, we’ll go with her in the circle, and then I just have to figure out who will go around her,” Allen said.

Official tryouts for Apalachee are on Friday, exactly one week prior to the team’s first game. That first field experience will be in hosting Union Grove, Allen’s former team, in a season opening scrimmage.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit of nerves on my part because I had such a great experience with them last year and it’s always tough coaching against somebody that you spent so much time building up, but I am excited to see how much some of the younger girls on the team who are returning this year have improved and how they’ve grown up,” Allen noted. “It’ll be a great test for us right off the bat, and I’m interested to see how we’ll compete against another state playoff contender right off the bat.”

The regular season provides no relief either, though, as the Lady Cats will travel to Flowery Branch for a short tournament on Aug. 13 where they face their own former coach, Mike Cavey, and the Archer Lady Tigers for their first game that counts towards the record.

“I think those games are really tougher on the coaches than the players. When the game starts, the players are right there living in the moment and playing the game. The coaches are the ones that have down time to think about coaching against the players they coached last season,” Allen noted. “Once that first pitch is thrown, the players are focused on the game.”

If playing Cavey’s team was bad enough where he is an assistant, former Apalachee assistant Ryan Hill is now the head softball coach at Lanier. Apalachee will open their region schedule at home against Lanier on Aug. 21.

The contest against Lanier is their first true region game, yes, but the Lady Cats will get a good look at one region opponent prior to that date with an exhibition of sorts against Winder-Barrow.

The two rivals will pair off and play on Aug. 19 at Apalachee for the first of two meetings with the second coming at Winder-Barrow on Sep. 4. 

For Coach Allen, that Aug. 19 game will be his first chance to have an impact on the legendary Winder-Barrow/Apalachee series. As big as that moment might seem to some, though, Allen has barely even thought about it.

“I know it’s cliché to say that coaches only takeit one game at a time, but I am focused on Union Grove for the scrimmage Friday night, and then next to a competitive tournament. If I’m thinking about Winder, we’re going to be in a world of hurt before that,” Allen admitted.

“Obviously the kids are pretty focused on that because it is fun playing against your friends and playing against the county rival, and I am looking forward to that because it’s good for a community to have a common rival, and we definitely have that with Winder in all sports. At Apalachee, the goal for everybody is to make the state playoffs and to beat Winder,” Allen acknowledged. “Honestly, I’m really focused on that scrimmage we’re going to see a week from Friday and that tournament we’re going to see the following week.”

With so many games coming so quickly, as the finalized Wildcat varsity softball team will go from foundation to competition in just about seven practice days, Allen and his staff have a daunting task ahead of them in getting everyone ready for that game against Archer in mid-August.

“The thing is that you have to realize that even if you have six weeks to prepare for the first game, you’re never as a coach going to feel like you’re ready, so you just have to do the best you can in the time that’s allotted. The main thing is getting their focus back in game mode because they’ve had so many days…of just practice situations and hitting in the cage and taking rounds of infield and doing infield drills, and now we have to get back in game mode,” Allen explained.

“Obviously you’d like to practice with the same intensity and level as you play, but the reality is that the games and the practice are on a different level. So the main challenge is getting them back in game mode and getting them mentally focused to compete for seven full innings,” Allen added.

As Allen alluded to when discussing Winder, every coach’s goal is to make it to the playoffs. For Apalachee softball, state playoffs are a tradition, and it is one that Allen hopes to continue under his duration as coach.

Specifically, he hopes to get his girls into the state tournament before even facing the region tournament.

“With region play this year, it’s critical that you can get to the top two,” Allen said.

With the region playoffs, the top two teams at the end of the regular season automatically receive bids for the state tournament. They still have to play for seeding to avoid playing on the road in the first and second rounds, but the added pressure of playing for their lives is automatically removed.

“If you can be the regular season one or two, that puts you in great shape. Having said that, I would be remiss to say that our goal is to go through the region schedule unscathed and undefeated because it’s an outstanding region and I think that it would be difficult to pull that off,” Allen explained. “I think we can compete with anybody in the region, but I think there are several teams that will give us a battle and it’ll be tough and competitive teams night in and night out.”

Region 8-AAAAA was the only team in the classification to send all four teams through the first round of the state playoffs and one of three to send two teams to the state tournament in Columbus.

Apalachee was not one of those two teams in Columbus from the region after a second-round loss to Creekside, but Allen hopes to turn that around in 2014 and he is more than ready to get things started.

“What I’m most looking forward to is turning the girls loose,” Allen said. “Practices are for me, practices are for the coaches to implement what we want to implement and work on to be a better team. It’s not always player-centered. It’s coach centered.

“When the lights are on and the umpires are out there and lines are drawn, it’s for the players, and I’m ready to turn this group loose and see how they do in the game situation.”

 

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