At this point in the softball season, teams have begun to turn their focus away from improvement and toward winning games.
Of course, they still want to continue to get better as the season goes along, but competing game in and game out is the real focus now. That was the buzz world delivered by a couple of coaches in talking about the Shaw Invitational, which takes place at South Commons on Friday and Saturday.
"Our expectations for the invitational are just to compete," said Brandon Jenkins, who is in his first season as Northside's head coach. "Compete every pitch and every inning. We are going to take it one game at a time, and I feel like if we do these things we will be pleased with the results."
Columbus' Chad Mathis said the same.
"Our expectations for this tournament are to compete, execute and hopefully win every game that we play," he said. "We, as a team, must have the correct attitude and hold everyone accountable."
So far these have been winning strategies for both the Lady Patriots and the Lady Blue Devils.
Northside enters the tournament at 9-4, having won five of its past six games. Columbus is 7-3, 3-0 in Region 5-AAAA. Brookstone (6-0) and, of course, Shaw (1-2) will also compete in the tournament.
Columbus, which played at the state tournament at South Commons in 2012, returned the majority of its players from last season, and Mathis hopes that this tournament can springboard his team to more success last season.
It is the only tournament the team will play for the rest of the season until, perhaps, the region tournament, but he looks at it as an opportunity to gauge where the team is going into region play.
"With five games, we're hoping for some good competition and want to play as many people as possible," he said. "I'm hoping that we see some quality pitching that will prepare us for the last half of region play."
The Lady Blue Devils will look to Mary Catherine Smith in the circle, and Mathis also said he's gotten great contributions from Alex Head and Deryka Ray stepping into new roles. Sydney Sprague, Kayla Brena and Lexie Stohr, who comprised a very solid infield last year, are back as well.
The Lady Blue Devils will get started against St. Pius X at 4 p.m. and then face Effingham at 6 p.m.
Jenkins said that Northside, which has been led offensively by Sarah and Mary Horne (.436 and .357 average, respectively), is on pace to hit its stride heading into region play. Like Mathis, he is hoping this tournament can continue that pace.
"I believe this invitational will help us out tremendously," he said. "We are playing a very tough schedule against schools with storied programs. I like playing in tournaments because it gives you a playoff-like atmosphere and prepares us for the region tournament."
The Lady Patriots will be led by senior pitcher Cora Beth Hudgins in the circle, who is 6-2 with a 1.14 ERA so far this season. They will play LaGrange at 4 p.m. to start the tournament.
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter@leprepsports and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.