Oconee County High School’s softball team is on a roll.
The Lady Warriors won four of their last five games through action on Tuesday. After starting the season 0-4, they rattled off four-straight wins to draw to a .500 record before dropping a close game Monday against Morgan County, 6-5.
Zack Graham, head coach at Oconee, said he intentionally scheduled tough opponents during the non-region portion of the season. Graham noted that three of the first four teams Oconee played reached the Elite Eight round of last year’s playoffs or better.
It’s all part of Graham’s designs to get the Lady Warriors in good shape for region contests.
“I think that's only gonna make us better,” Graham said. “Yeah, we might get beat 8-0 or 9-0 or whatever, but you're gonna get better because you're seeing the best pitching in the state. ... I want to play the best non-region schedule we can.”
So far, the conditioning against top-tier opponents paid off.
Oconee got its first win in a 7-1 defeat of East Jackson on Aug. 24. Two days later, the Lady Warriors beat Monroe Area 16-4.
They shut out Archer 8-0 last Saturday before beating South Paulding 6-5 later in the day. Though Monday’s game against Morgan resulted in a loss, it was still an improvement on the teams’ first meeting.
Across those games, Oconee raised its team batting average to .284. The Lady Warriors had a .328 on base percentage to go with a .362 slugging percentage and a .690 OPS.
“They saw that pitching,” Graham said, stating that the offense improved because it saw quality pitchers during the early slate. “They were seeing what those other teams were doing and it's kind of rubbed off on us. Our bats have gotten hot, mainly because we were seeing good pitching.”
The Lady Warriors got an unexpected day off Tuesday when the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought heavy rains through the area. That forced a postponement of their game at Franklin County.
Graham said as the team rested up and got ready to pick back up Wednesday at Jefferson that he wants the Lady Warriors to continue their quality at-bats and reduce their number of strikeouts moving forward.
Most importantly, Graham wants to see improvement on the defense.
Of the 48 runs allowed by pitchers Kate Newberry, Ava Moon and Emalee Dyer, only 30 were earned. The others were scored thanks to 18 errors committed by Oconee.
“We can't allow four- and five-out innings,” Graham said. “We've got to get in and out in three outs. In other words, we can't be making a lot of errors behind our pitching. ... Kate [on Monday] gave up one earned run out of the six and we lost 6-5. ... We've had great games with the gloves, we've had bad games with the gloves and we've had some in between games with the gloves. We're getting to the point of the year where we're entering September, the second third of our season, and it's time to start seeing some consistency on the defensive side.”
As of Tuesday, Oconee held a 2-0 record in Region 8-AAA. The Lady Warriors will ramp up their region schedule Wednesday on the road at Jefferson and Thursday at home against Stephens County.
With the most important games of the season coming up, Graham said he knows his team – the defending region champion – will have to battle the other teams’ best efforts.
“We won the region last year, so I'm sure a bulls eye or a target may be on our backs, which is where you want to be,” he said. “That means you're leading the pack and if the bull eye’s on your back, that means you're out in front of everybody. That's certainly where you want to be when you're playing a team sport.”