NORTH FULTON, Ga. — Softball squads from Cambridge and Alpharetta will suit up this week with their eyes on the ultimate prize — a state title.
Both teams qualified by placing in the top four of the Region 7-AAAAAA standings, which were adjusted for this year. In previous years, the top five teams earned postseason berths, but the number of advancing teams was limited to four this season.
Cambridge compiled a 14-2 region record to earn the No. 2 seed and home-field advantage against South Paulding (18-9). The Bears were the only 7-AAAAAA team to beat region champs Pope in the regular season with a 4-3 win on Aug. 22. Cambridge’s two region losses came to Pope and Dunwoody, who finished third in the region standings.
“You always want to win the region title, but at the end of the day, it’s very hard to be too upset with the outcome given the talent and strength of this region,” Cambridge head coach Evan Tieles said.
A key to the Bears’ success, Tieles said, is the pitching of junior Lauren Cooper.
“She took some huge strides from last year,” he said. “She really has just elevated her game. She’s been very consistent, and she has kept us in every game we have played.”
Cooper recently threw a perfect game, striking out nine batters in the Bears’ five inning, 13-0 win over Northview Sept. 30.
Cambridge has also had success at the plate. Led by Chooch Carroll and Nikki Tanguay, the Bears averaged an impressive nine runs per game in the regular season.
“Carroll has been a huge power batter for us all season, and Tanguay is just a natural hitter,” Tieles said. “Fortunately, we have been able to put up a lot of runs. We are taking advantage of other teams’ mistakes, capitalize on our opportunities and have gotten timely hits when we’ve needed to.”
Tieles said the Bears are looking forward to the home-field advantage they earned for the first round, but the team knows they have no cakewalk to open the postseason. Region 7 teams will take on Region 5 squads in the first round, and the Bears drew South Paulding (18-9).
“We knew we were going to get a tough opponent, and South Paulding is a strong team,” Tieles said. “But that’s why we schedule some of those non-region games. You want to play with those competitive teams because you know whoever you play in the playoffs will be good.”
The Bears are seeking another deep postseason run after dropping their first-round series with Allatoona last year. Cambridge reached the quarterfinals in 2017.
Like the Bears, Alpharetta enters the playoff with postseason experience. The Raiders, who returned nearly all of last year’s roster, earned their third trip to the state tournament in four years with a 10-6 region record to earn the No. 4 seed.
Cambridge ran the table against the lower teams of the region, with their six losses coming to Pope, Cambridge and Dunwoody. Though the Raiders dropped those contests, head coach Edward Francis said his team battled well against their talented opponents, and that should serve them well against a strong Northgate team in the first round.
“From what I hear, [Northgate] has a really good pitcher, and whenever you build a softball team around a good pitcher, you will probably have a good team,” Francis said. “Cambridge and Dunwoody have really good pitchers, and we were able to grind against them and stay in the game. If we do the same against Northgate, we should be able to stay competitive.”
A key for the Raiders will be putting runners in scoring position.
“We need to move girls over and be able to produce three or four runs,” he said.
Francis will rely on Madison Richards and Avery Camera to get on base, then turn to Megan McCullough and KK Farrar, who did not strikeout in 70 plate appearances in the regular season, to drive in runs.
“We will look to produce runs and hope that Alexis [Lopresti] can keep us in the game,” Francis said. “We’ve gotten really great pitching from Alexis, and she has been the core of our defense.”
But Alpharetta will not look to just a few players to make the difference.
“We’ve talked with the girls and told them that everyone will have a role, from starters to courtesy runners, everyone,” Francis said. “Everyone will be an integral part of our playoff experience.”
While the Bears and Raiders continue their seasons, last week marked the end of the year for other Class 6A teams from North Fulton. Chattahoochee tied for fifth in the region standings, one game behind Alpharetta for the final playoff spot. Hooch was in the playoff race much of the season, but the Cougars had to contend with playing five of the region’s top teams in their final seven games. Hooch went 2-5 in that stretch to fall below the playoff bubble.
Centennial, Northview and Johns Creek placed seventh through ninth in the final region standings.