(Franklin, GA) — Following a 1-2 record at the State Tournament, the Lady Braves softball team ended the season with a fifth place finish at the 2019 GSHA Class AA State Softball Tournament last week.
Sophomore shortstop Emma Helton (Photo: Jeff Napier)
The Lady Braves finished the year with an outstanding overall record of 27-8 with a record of 11-1 and a second straight title in Region 5-AA.
The 27 wins was just one away from the school record of 28 wins set multiple times in the last decade.
Just like in 2018, the Lady Braves got off to a slow start in the state tourney losing a very important game one versus the Harlem Bulldogs Thursday afternoon by a final score of 8-5.
The girls bounced back for a strong 8-0 win over Vidalia Friday afternoon before falling to a very familiar Lamar County Trojan squad in a heartbreaking 5-4 loss in extra innings.
It was the fourth meeting of the season between the Lady Braves and Trojans and just like the other three it was a close hard-fought game throughout.
The game did not end, however without one of the biggest defensive highlights in Lady Brave softball history from the only freshman on the team, Chasity Kates.
Inserted as a defensive replacement late in the game in right field, Kates went over the temporary fence to rob what would have been a game-winning homer in the bottom of the eighth inning for the Trojans.
Unfortunately, the catch-and-carry rule meant that although Kates had robbed thee homer, since she ended up landing on the opposite side of the fence, the potential game-winning runner was able to advance from first to second base on the catch.
With two outs, the Trojans came up with a base hit to left field to end the game and the season for the Lady Braves.
Sophomore first baseman Abigail Lathrop (Photo: Jeff Napier)
Coach Matt Hornsby says that the catch by the freshman was something truly special.
“There’s no doubt that was the most clutch catch I have seen in such a big moment during my 10 years of coaching,” said Hornsby after the tournament.
Hornsby says he is very proud of what the girls were able to accomplish this season especially versus such a tough slate of opponents in the regular season.
“When we put the schedule together we thought we would be good but I don’t think we ever imagined we would have the success we did especially so quickly in August,” Hornsby stated.
“I think this was the most fun team we have ever coached as far as them getting along and getting after it every day. We had different people stepping up at different times. I wrote on Facebook that they were a ‘dream team’ to coach and I meant every word of that.”
Leading the way in the circle in the 8-0 five inning win over Vidalia were the two senior starters, Katelyn Jiles and Caroline Jones.
After a rough game one outing versus Harlem, Jiles bounced back with four strong innings versus the Indians where she allowed just one hit, zero walks, while striking out three. Jones closed it out in the fifth inning striking out two of the four batters she faced.
At the plate, it was sophomore shortstop Emma Helton who led the way. Arguably, the most valuable Lady Brave in the tournament, Helton had three hits, two RBI’s and a stolen base versus the Indians.
Sophomore Z Boyd and junior Alyssa Hall had two hits apiece, with Hall driving home a run as well. Hannah Holden doubled, swiped a base and drove home two runs while Janiyah Strong and Abigail Lathrop each had a base hit and an RBI.
Junior outfielder Beth Taylor led the way for the offense in the game one loss to Harlem. Taylor went 3-for-4 with three singles and three RBI’s.
Sophomore catcher Mackenzie White (Photo: Jeff Napier)
Emma Helton had another solid effort with two bunt hits, two stolen bases, and two runs scored. Helton led the Lady Braves in hitting this season with a .533 batting average, runs scored with 51 and steals with 24. Helton was not thrown out stealing all season long.
Sophomore catcher Mackenzie White had two hits, a walk, and drove home one run, while Lathrop had a base hit and an RBI in the loss.
White finished the season with an impressive .519 batting average and was co-leader in homers with eight along with Janiyah Strong. Strong batted .424 with a team high 45 RBI’s.
In the season ending loss to Lamar County Friday evening, Z Boyd and Holden led the way offensively. Boyd went 2-for-2 with three stolen bases while Holden went 2-for-4 with an RBI base hit.
Hornsby was most proud of the leadership and contributions to the program in general by his five seniors who all played major roles in the team’s second straight Region 5-AA Championship.
“These seniors did such a good job of showing these younger girls how it is done both on and off the field,” says Hornsby.
“Katelyn Jiles I think pitched as good as we thought she would if not better this year, and Caroline Jones pitched better than she ever has — both of them in the circle were the biggest reason we were even able to make it down to Columbus.”
“Tori Caldwell just locked it down for us in center field all season long and Hannah Holden played really well in left field for us,” the coach stated.
He says Holden, a rare four-year starter for the program, did a great job in the outfield after playing in the infield for most of her first three years with the team.
Senior pitcher Katelyn Jiles (Photo: Jeff Napier)
“If we had known Hannah would play so well in the outfield we may have moved her out there long ago,” says Hornsby.
Another senior Hornsby was very proud of was one that battled back after a sharp reduction in playing time as a junior.
“Brittany Graley bouncing back the way she did after a tough season last year and winning the starting DP job for us this year was huge for us– she hit over .300 and had some really big hits for us this year. It was so good to see these seniors going out playing the way they did.”
Region 5-AA proved to be very strong in Columbus with not only the Lady Braves and Lamar County playing well, but the No. 3 seed Bremen making the most noise of all.
Following a tourney opening 6-0 loss to state No. 1 Banks County, Bremen came back to notch consecutive wins over Jeff Davis, Harlem, Lamar County, and Rockmart to earn an improbable spot in the championship series.
Torrential rains Saturday afternoon postponed game one of the championship with the Banks County Leopards leading 4-1 in the fifth inning.
The two teams met at Banks County High School late Monday to finish the series with Banks winning game one boy a score of 6-1 and claiming their first ever softball State Championship.