The 2018 Region 5-AA Champion Lady Braves (Kneeling L-R): Alexus Crawford, Caroline Jones, Beth Taylor, Haley Bennett, Emma Helton, Alyssa Hall, Hannah Holden, Sydney Gay, Chaple Butler (Standing L-R): Brittany Graley, Mackenzie White, Tori Caldwell, Kaitlyn Baldwin, Emily Shelnutt, Lora Glover, Taylor Paris, Katelyn Jiles, Abigail Lathrop, Janiyah Strong (Coaches L-R): Gavin Porter, Matt Hornsby, James Arp, Trent Bianco, Jud Jones)
(Franklin, GA) — The Lady Braves capped a long day of softball at Heard High by capturing the Region 5-AA Championship after hard-fought wins over Callaway and Lamar County Thursday.
It was the sixth region title for Matt Hornsby and the Lady Braves during his ninth season as head coach and perhaps most importantly secured the squad a No. 1 seed heading into next week’s GHSA Class AA State Playoffs.
The road to the region crown was not an easy one Thursday after a much improved Callaway squad jumped out to an early 7-0 lead over the Lady Braves in the first game of the day. But the Lady Braves would bounce back.
Chipping away at the lead and keyed by a home run from junior Marissa Garza, the Lady Braves stormed back from the seven run deficit to win 10-7 and advance to the title game.
In game two, defending Champion Lamar defeated Bremen 7-4 to earn their spot in the title game, a rematch from 2017’s championship tilt won by the Trojans. An 8-5 win over the defending region champs would secure region supremacy for the fourth time in five years.
Freshman catcher Mackenzie White led the offense in the title game win with three RBI’s and another freshman Abigail Lathrop had two.
Lathrop’s RBI’s were crucial with her hitting behind Janiyah Strong. The Trojans walked Strong two times intentionally and in both cases the Lady Braves got on the board. Sophomore Beth Taylor also drove in a run late with a pinch hit single.
Senior Sydney Gay earned the win on the mound after another solid performance and junior Katelyn Jiles would close it out in relief.
Other Lady Brave starters that played well both offensively and defensively Thursday and all season long include freshman shortstop Emma Helton, junior second baseman Hannah Holden, junior right-fielder Tori Caldwell, and senior center fielder Kaitlyn Baldwin.
Coach Hornsby was proud of his girls not only for winning the title but finishing with a perfect 12-0 region record.
“We had to battle today — after being down 7-0 in that first game it showed a lot of character from our girls to be able to chip back into it, and our pitchers kept us in the game after those two big long balls. In the title game, we knew Lamar was hitting it well and our pitching would have to be on point and it was,” said Hornsby after the tournament.”
Despite the deep and talented offensive line-up, Hornsby says it was the solid mound work from Gay and Jiles that was the key.
“We didn’t plan to throw Sydney or Katelyn in that first game today and we ended up having to use both,” Hornsby said. “It’s kind of funny that Katelyn got the win in the first game with Sydney coming in to save it and in the last game Sydney gets the win and Katelyn gets the save. Don’t get me wrong, Katelyn and Sydney were both good pitchers for us last year but this year they have both taken it up to a new level and been big for us.”
The coach is also very proud of the attitudes and work ethic of his entire line-up and bench. He carried the biggest roster in team history (20 players) this season and knew that might be challenging, but in the end every single player contributed in some way to the title.
“I couldn’t be more proud of all these girls especially some that for whatever reason may not have gotten as much playing time as they had hoped. In every case no one has missed time because they were playing bad but mainly just because other girls have gotten so hot and played so well,” added Hornsby.
“As a coach it is awesome to see such good attitudes even from our girls who don’t get is much time. It is good to know that we have girls that are always willing to help us at anytime by running the bases, pinch-hitting or getting relief work on the mound. These girls just want to win and when your entire roster has that mentality good things are going to happen.”
The Class AA No. 5 ranked Lady Braves’ six losses this season all came at the hands of top 10 teams with most from higher classifications and all but one of those losses was two or less runs.
The Lady Braves won’t have much time to celebrate as the State Playoffs and the road to Columbus will begin next week. The Lady Braves (19-6, 12-0) will first host Union County, the No. 4 seed from Region 8-AA in a best-of-three series starting with a doubleheader Wednesday (Time TBA) at HCHS. With a split, the teams would face a third and deciding if game on Thursday.
The Panthers (15-11, 6-4) will face a long 170 mile trip to Franklin for the series. Although coming in as a No. 4 seed, the Lady Panthers could prove to be a tough opponent as they compete in one of the top regions in the state featuring three top 10 teams.
With a win in that series the Lady Braves would likely host Dade County in round two in another three game series beginning on October 16. Dade takes on a weak Region 6-AA opponent in next week’s first round. The winner of that Sweet 16 series would advance to Columbus for the State Championship Elite 8 tournament October 25-27.