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Lady Gators get back to work

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Lady Gators get back to work

    As the new faces on the block in 2010, the Bulloch Academy softball team was mostly downplayed in its first year at Class-AAA – the highest in the Georgia Independent School Association. A state playoff appearance started to turn some heads, and now the 2011 version of the Lady Gators is primed to take things to the next level.
    Wednesday’s continued scorching heat may have given the day a dull and dreary feeling, but there was nothing except liveliness at Bulloch Academy as the Gators prepare to kick off regular season play next week.
    “It’s really exciting,” said catcher Taylor Collins, who enters her fifth year as a starter and is coming off a 2010 campaign that earned her All-Region and All-State recognition. “We’ve been hard at work all summer. We know that we can win some games, so we’re just ready to get started.”
    “I’ve been impressed with the girls this summer,” said Bulloch coach Chandler Dennard. “I’ve seen an increased commitment over the summer both on the field and in the weight room. This is a team that really wants to get better.”
    Coming together in time for next Friday’s opener at the Windsor tournament in Macon should be easy for the Gators as eight starters return from last season.
    Headlining for Bulloch will be a pair of strong arms in Lauren Dennard – voted All-Region and Honorable Mention All-State in 2010 - and Madeline Vickery, the pair of which improved throughout the Gators’ run to the postseason last year.
    Mary Margaret Reaves bumps up to the top of the order to replace the departed Rachael Gilbert and Collins will manage the pitching staff from behind the plate while occupying the No. 3 spot in the batting order.
    “I think we have a very solid team,” said Chandler Dennard. “We have a pair of pitchers that we can count on and good speed. We’ve been more of a small ball team, but with so much experience, we can swing the bats a little better this year.”
    Last season, the Gators advanced into the state playoffs, but were faced with a tall order in Westfield, which has won 11 consecutive region titles. Bulloch dropped a tough series in three games, but last year’s disappointment is only breeding new confidence for the new season.
    “This year will be a different mindset,” said Dennard. “There won’t be any more intimidation. When we had to go toe-to-toe with some of those big schools last season, we didn’t know what to expect. Now, we know where we stand and what we’re up against.”
    As for Collins, she knows that it is now or never in her last season with Bulloch.
    “Things have changed a little,” said Collins. “I always try my hardest, but you get a better view of things when you’re a senior and trying to be a leader. This is a team that works hard and doesn’t have any drama. We all want to win and it would be great to go out with a bang.”
    The Gators will be tested early on as a rematch with Westfield and a date with Stratford Academy — another perennial contender for a state title — await in the first two weeks of the season.
    “Those games will let us see where we stand,” said Dennard. “But I think we’re a confident and talented team. We’re at the highest level now, but the goal is always the same. We want to win region titles and be in the hunt for a Final Four and a state championship.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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