A trio of traditionally strong prep softball programs are laying the foundation for another chapter of success to their respective history books this fall, and it's all cranking up during the final days of July.
As an annual summer staple on the local front, the two-day Trojan Summer Slam wrapped up on Tuesday afternoon, where Bowdon, Central and host Carrollton High School were among the field of teams putting the pieces of the puzzle together for the upcoming 2018 campaign.
With four fields holding games throughout each day, the East Carroll Softball Complex was buzzing with action under the watchful eye of Lady Trojan head coach and tournament host Lisa Phillips.
"It's been great. We've had great weather and the teams have come and I think they got a lot of looks at different kids. That's what we like to use it for, to give those kids different looks and get some live action and see where you are," Phillips said. "It's good to use that bonding time, too. It's been a big thing for us to come in and have everybody here this week to try to find that identity and that bond with this group. Overall, I think it's a great experience. The teams seem to like it. We get more and more each year. It's been great."
Coming off a fourth consecutive region championship and a run to the Class AAAAA elite eight in Columbus last year, the Lady Trojans are turning to some new leaders in 2018 and Phillips said this was the first week she's had the entire team in one place.
The veteran head coach knows the potential is there, but she said it's a matter of coming together over the next few weeks before the season officially starts and developing that championship formula.
"Some of them have been playing travel ball and we've had a couple of injuries. So (Tuesday) was the first day we've had the whole group together," Phillips said following her team's win over Decatur. "We played a little bit better. A little bit out of sync, but that happens when you haven't been together for a while. Hopefully, that cohesiveness will continue to improve as we play more."
First-year Bowdon head coach Kasey Swafford was also upbeat about the way her ballclub performed over the two-day stretch, highlighted by a 4-0 victory over Carrollton on Monday.
"I couldn't have been more proud of them. They make me look good as a coach. They've done exceptionally well at this (Trojan) Slam," Swafford said. "We're coming along and I'm really pleased with what I'm seeing. We didn't match up with anybody that's our classification here. At the same time, some of our older ones are stepping up and making big hits and stepping out of their comfort zone and being leaders and maximizing their talent. I'm excited. I think it's going to be a great season. I really do."
Bowdon graduated its 1-2 punch in the circle with former aces Macy Bearden, a two-time Times-Georgian All-Area Pitcher of the Year who is now at Jacksonville State, and Treasure Shaw (Point University) both departed to the next level.
But junior Laken Maxwell is ready to prove she's the next ace in the circle for the Red Devilettes as they seek a third consecutive trip to Columbus this fall.
"I'm proud of my junior pitcher Laken. She's been doing some good things on the mound. And then everybody else with the combinations that we've been putting out there, it's just kind of worked," Swafford said.
Central head coach Dave McKenna took plenty of positives from the Trojan Slam, as well, noting how he's got a quality mix of young and old talent after losing just two seniors to graduation from last season's sweet 16 squad.
"Things are looking good for us. We've got a good group coming back and we've got a good group coming up of young girls that can play," McKenna said. "All summer we've been getting out there and getting after it and getting better. Our main goal all summer is each day to get better at one aspect of the game. For the most part, we're doing that."
The Lady Lions had a play-date with Mount Zion last week before meeting up with Bowdon and Villa Rica for a round-robin event. The three teams will take the field once again on Thursday before settling into the start of the season, as Central opens Aug. 7 at home against Bowdon.
That put even more of an onus on the past two days of work at East Carroll, where the Central staff was able to evaluate everyone on the roster in a live environment.
"This tournament right here really helps out because you can weed out who can play, who can play where, who can hit and which pitchers can throw strikes. It's just a matter of getting out and competing and that's the good thing about this tournament," McKenna said. "You can switch kids in and out and you don't have to worry about substitutions or anything like that. We're mixing everybody in and out every inning and letting the young girls play, letting the older girls play. We're trying to find that right mesh for when we do get kicked off in early August."