The Portal Panther softball team has advanced to the state playoffs in two of the last three seasons. Head Coach Travis Motes has been happy with how his team has played but this year just making it to the playoffs will not be seen as a successful season.
“After missing out on the playoffs for so many years there was a point where we were happy to just be a part of the playoffs,” said Motes. “This year that isn’t going to be enough. These girls have set their sights a lot higher to go to Columbus for the Elite-8 and I feel like they can achieve those goals.”
The Panthers were 11-10 last season and should be able to compete for a region title this year thanks to returning seven of their nine starters from a year ago. Leading the way is junior pitcher Riley Lamb with juniors Blair Brannen and Anslee Woods helping provide the pop at the plate.
“I feel like we have a great mix of experience and youth and a lot of players that can do different things,” said Motes. “We have a lot of girls who have been giving their all and are very athletic. I feel like our infield and our pitching is our biggest strength. We have struggled at times hitting the ball, but we have really worked hard on drills that should help us with that.”
“We have enough speed and pitching to keep us in most games,” said Motes. “The key is for us to all get a little better at the plate with our bats. Being able to put the ball in play and move runners over is something we are improving on.”
The Panthers advanced to the state in 2020 and were beat in the first round by Lanier County. Motes feels the team learned a lot from that experience that should carry into this year.
“The girls were pretty mad after getting beat by Lanier County last year,” said Motes. “We all felt like we had the potential to go a lot further last year and that has fueled them to get better this preseason. I can see a lot more determination from them and focus during practices.”
The Jackets scrimmaged Southeast Bulloch last week and put up a fight before finally falling to the Jackets. The Panthers have a few more scrimmage games before they get the season underway with a couple tournaments in August.
“Playing a tough team like Southeast Bulloch can only make us better,” said Motes. “When you play a game like this it really shows you where you stand and what you need to work on. I felt like we really did a few things pretty good and then there were definitely a few things we really need to get better at before the season begins.”
The Panthers open the regular season at the Harlem fall classic in Harlem August 7.