The Region 5-7A softball slate is two-thirds done, which has been more than enough time to make clear that this season is much different from last.
One similarity: Lambert still has a presence in the first-place spot. But unlike last year, when the Longhorns rolled through with a 15-0 record, they're sharing that position, and this season seen significantly more volatility. That was on display on Monday night, when North Forsyth came down to Suwanee and grabbed a 12-5 victory over Lambert to create a tie for the top spot in the region.
"They're very good softball players," Raiders head coach Jim Cahill said. "They practice hard, they play hard and they love the game. It's definitely not anything I did: I just kind of let them play."
Cahill doesn't have recent region history to take into account when evaluating the current scene: This is his first season back with North's softball program after leaving the post in 2007. He doesn't look at standings, either, preferring to break the schedule into five-game chunks, signifying the three times North will face each region opponent.
That's still enough to tell Cahill that the Raiders are on quite a run. North (11-7, 7-3 Region 5-7A) has won its past five games, and the bats have put up double-digit run totals in three of those victories. On Tuesday, every one of the Raiders' starting nine reached base, Madelyn Oliver and Abby Martin hit home runs and six of North's runs came off Delaware commit Kassidy Krupit, one of the county's best pitchers.
"If one person starts hitting, I think it's kind of like a chain reaction," said North right fielder Payton Martin, who had three singles in the game. "It gets us all up and we get excited, especially in games like this, because we want to win and we know where we stand in the region right now."
Much of North's offense did come in the form of outbursts on Monday. The game was tied at 2-2 heading into the bottom of the third, when the heart of the Raiders' order smacked four straight hits off Krupit. North was up 6-2 at the end of that frame. In the sixth inning, with Riley Rollings in the circle for Lambert (14-7, 7-3), the Raiders added more insurance than was necessary, with Abby Martin's three-run shot capping off the five-run inning.
Payton Martin, a senior, has a sense of how this year compares to last. The Raiders have already equaled their region win total from 2016, when they were 7-8 and made it to the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. They've turned around the offensive inconsistency that marked their first five region games, and now they're aiming for the outright title.
"Honestly, (it's) completely different," Martin said. "We have a chance, we're up there, and we're fighting. We want it."