Photo by Brian Paglia / ELCA softball coach Doug Campbell (left) and catcher Casey Durham have the Chargers back in Columbus for the state tournament after a two year absence.
McDONOUGH — This season has been one of adjusting expectations for Eagle’s Landing Christian softball coach Doug Campbell.
It started as modest optimism. Coming off a 2-13 season, Campbell kept the goals guarded, yet hopeful — compete for a region title, he told the Lady Chargers, something every team is guaranteed a shot.
Now, it’s bordering on restrained ambition. Despite a starting nine full of freshmen and sophomores, ELCA enters Columbus and its 11 a.m. game against Mount Pisgah Christian with an anything-can-happen outlook.
A win would set up a meeting between Athens Christian or Savannah Christian at 6 p.m. and put the Lady Chargers (22-11-1) two wins away from their first state title since 2009.
“Seeing the field,” Campbell said, “I think anything can happen. There’s no really dominant team.”
ELCA knows about dominant softball teams. It had one from 2006-09, winning four straight Class A titles.
Infact, the Lady Chargers got an up-close reminder Monday at practice.
There was Hope Rush on the mound, giving ELCA’s players a taste of what Mount Pisgah ace pitcher Courtney Condon might offer Thursday.
Rush pitched the Lady Chargers to the first three of their state titles, going 123-18-2 in her high school career and signing with Georgia Tech. She was looking to get in 100 pitches for an offseason workout. Campbell wanted his young team to get prepared for Condon’s velocity.
Campbell designed this season in a way to prepare the Lady Chargers for this moment. He knew with 10 incoming freshmen, four sophomores and one junior that ELCA needed experience in compelling games.
So he scheduled appearances in two tournaments featuring teams from higher classifications. Through their first 14 games, the Lady Chargers went 5-8-1.
But after going 1-4 against the likes of Alcovy and Whitewater in the final tournament, something clicked.
“Playing better schools opened everyone’s eyes,” sophomore catcher Casey Durham said. “We realized this wasn’t middle school anymore. We knew we had to play with a junior or senior mindset.”
ELCA has gone 17-3 since, beating county and region rival Strong Rock three times, including for the region championship, and outscoring Landmark Christian 21-0 in the Lady Chargers’ doubleheader last Thursday in the first round of the state tournament.
And those 10 freshmen have grown up, too, Campbell said. Seven of them start. One of them, Chanel Newcomer, is one of ELCA’s primary pitchers. The other, Alyssa Camp, is a sophomore.
Neither has overwhelming velocity, Campbell said, but they compliment each other and have good intelligence on the mound.
“They’ve been very good,” Campbell said. “They’ve got good offspeed pitches, can get in on the hands. Not great velocity, but we hope that’ll develop as they get older.”
Campbell said the team is still developing defensively, but the formula for success has already emerged — get runs early from a balanced lineup led by Durham and Abigail Rodgers and let Camp or Newcomer keep the lead.
“If we can score four or five runs,” Campbell said, “we can win against anybody.”