The thrill of a state championship is what drove the Rockmart Lady Jackets to the top of Class AA softball in 2017.
Now teams across the state will be watching and waiting to see if the girls are strong enough to sting the competition and stay at the top of the pecking order this fall.
Rockmart head coach Steve Luke isn’t thinking too much about a state title at the moment, and neither is the team as they were out early last week taking batting practice and preparing for another top-ranked team, Calhoun.
“There’s not a lot of time left, but we’ve been going on and off since June,” Luke said. “We’ve played some games and had a good summer.”
New senior leadership is expected to help the Lady Jackets along in Region 7-AA this year, including veteran seniors Cambree Stanley, Emily Loveless, Lauren Carter, and Emily Maulding leading the way to a group of sophomores and juniors who have now tasted success.
The team only several players to graduation with the Rockmart High Class of 2018, and those included starters in the rotation like Kelsea El-rod, Kelsey Motes and Taylor Camp, along with Casey Gable.
“We lost some of our main starters, and the others were in and out of the lineup,” he said. “They were good kids, but we’re going to be fine.”
With most of the Rockmart Lady Jackets softball team returning after winning the state championship in 2017, Luke thinks his collection of talent is nearly ready for the season’s start.
However at the moment, the Lady Jackets aren’t looking that far for-ward in the season for 2018. Instead, Luke said the team is taking everything one pitch, one swing of the bat and ultimately one game at a time.
“Our approach is not a focus of repeating, but focusing on one day at a time,” he said. “We want to get better every day.”
Even during off-time after the season wraps up in October – early or late depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs – many of those playing for the Lady Jackets are still busy with softball.
Travel ball teams made up of all-star players keep teammates in prac-tice and then on the road for games throughout the spring and summer.
“Right now we’re working hard to get fresh,” he said. “That’s what travel ball does to you. Players in Georgia play all summer long, and they almost play too much. You want to find a way to get their legs under them at the beginning of our season.”
Making sure the team is conditioned and ready to open the season this week is what Luke’s top priority has been.
“We’re trying to fix areas where we think we need some work,” Luke said.
It hasn’t been easy. This past week alone the Lady Jackets saw several days of practice time and a planned scrimmage interrupted by rain.
That time can’t be made up as the Lady Jackets are now staring down the start of the season today as the team travels to Cedartown to play, then hosts Pepperell for the first 7-AA game of the season on Thursday.
Rockmart gets a break for this upcoming weekend, but are then right back to swinging with an Aug. 14 game against Chattooga, then hosting Bremen and Model back to back on Aug. 15 and Aug. 16. Through the month of August alone, Luke has the Lady Jackets scheduled to play more than half of the 22 game schedule for the regular season.
Those include four games on Aug. 24 and 24 planned for an upcoming tournament that pit the Lady Jackets against much higher classification teams like North Paulding, Harrison and Etowah.
Luke said even with the busy schedule, the Lady Jackets will be ready.
“Our schedule is going to be a very challenging schedule,” he said. “We have a lot harder competition than we’ve seen before. It’s great to win a bunch of games, but if we’re not prepared in the end then we didn’t do enough to get ready. I think this schedule will prepare us throughout the regular season.”
Last year, Rockmart finished with the Class AA state title, a 35-2 record overall and went perfect for the Region 7-AA title against every team with their big win last year.
Weather permitting, the Tuesday game against Cedartown will help establish who the Lady Jackets are with their first team up and continue the rivalry with the Lady Bulldogs on the ball diamond.
“Our goal is to find out what kind of team we’ve got,” Luke said. “Every team has talent, and we’ve got to find their trigger, what gets them to go. That’s what I’m finding out with this group right now. We had a few sparkplugs last year, and we’re looking for those again this year.”