The Cass softball team hasn't been to the state playoffs in several years, but that doesn't mean these Colonels haven't played in high-intensity games.
Most of the team's current players have cut their teeth with some of the premier travel ball programs in the state. Big games? Important tournaments? They are no stranger to these things.
That's part of the reason Cass head coach Taylor Washington isn't looking to change much as the Colonels prepare to make their postseason return Monday at Chapel Hill.
“We’re going to keep doing things the same we we’ve been doing them,” Washington said. “We haven’t played on a Monday yet, so we’re going to come and practice on Sunday. Besides that, we’re not changing anything.
“This is the format we’ve been using all year with the doubleheaders, so I feel like we’re ready for that.”
Cass, which finished third in Region 7-AAAAA, will face Region 6-AAAAA runner-up Chapel Hill in a doubleheader, beginning at 4 p.m. If the two teams split, a winner-take-all Game 3 would take place the following day.
In years past, the Colonels wouldn't have been as used to the format. However, during this season, the new-look region, which includes just six teams, decided to play best-of-three series with each opponent. Granted, the teams didn't play three games in two days, but they did utilize doubleheaders.
Washington said Rachael Lee will get the ball for Game 1. The junior has pitched a majority of the team's innings down the stretch, but Kylee Hembree and Macenzie Dougharty are also capable of throwing important innings.
“We’re just going to see how it goes the first game, and then go from there,” Washington said of the pitching strategy. “That’s how we’ve done it in the region, and we’re going to keep that same approach going into the playoffs.”
The two teams appear to be incredibly even, at least on paper. Entering the series, Cass (16-11) is ranked 21st in Class 5A, while Chapel Hill (15-10) checks in at 22nd.
“I think they’re a very good team; I think they’re very well coached,” Washington said, noting she's seen the Panthers play a few times. “I think we just have to stay focused on us and what we’ve been doing all year — the things we’ve done well and the things we can improve on. I think that gives us the best shot is to focus more on ourselves than the other team.”
The teams' only common opponent is Villa Rica. The Region 6 champion Wildcats defeated the Panthers four times (2-1, 12-9, 12-6 and 9-7), and they also edged the Colonels (7-6) in Chattanooga.
“The girls are extremely focused right now,” Washington said. “They know Cass hasn’t been to the state playoffs in a while. They know that their team has deserved it, putting in the work since June.”
All of that dedication and all of those struggles in recent years have led to this moment. The Colonels are thrilled to have reached the playoffs, but they certainly aren't looking to stop there.
“I think they’re going to come in excited,” Washington said of her players. “I don’t think they need me to get them excited for the game. … But we want to make sure they’re not putting so much pressure on themselves that they’re playing tight.
"They’ve played so many games — from travel ball to school ball even back to rec ball. We don’t want them to put too much emphasis on these games. Just play how they have been, play hard and control what they can control.”