(Franklin, GA) — For a remarkable seventh time in eight years, the Lady Braves are once again bound for Columbus in hopes of bringing home the school’s second GHSA Class State Softball Championships.
The No. 2 state ranked Lady Braves made short work of the visiting Bleckley County Royals at Heard High Wednesday sweeping the visitors in a doubleheader that was rescheduled from Tuesday due to rain.
Junior Lady Brave Beth Taylor (Photo: Jeff Napier)
The Lady Braves won both match-ups via the run rule winning game one 9-0 in five innings and taking game two 18-5 in five innings.
Senior starting pitchers Katelyn Jiles (game one starter) and Caroline Jones (game two starter) each tossed a complete game to notch a playoff win in the circle.
In her five innings of work in game one, Jiles recorded the shutout after allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out a season high 10 Royal batters. Her control was spot on with 57 of her 72 pitches being strikes.
The lone run of the game in the first three innings came off the bat of sophomore first baseman Abigail Lathrop who launched the first home run of her varsity career to put the Lady Braves up 1-0.
Jiles continued to keep the Bleckley line-up at bay before junior Beth Taylor blasted a long grand slam to break the game open as the home team scored eight runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Mackenzie Whit had two hits in the game one win and Hannah Holden, Brittany Graley, and Janiyah Strong each had an RBI.
In game two, Jones was sharp scattering six hits and allowing just three earned runs in her winning outing.
The Lady Brave offense was the story of the game after putting up an impressive 18 runs — the most of the season against a quality opponent. Six different Lady Braves pounded out multiple hits in the blowout win.
Leading the way were Emma Helton and Janiyah Strong who each tallied three hits. Helton had a double and four RBI’s while Strong stroked two doubles and drove home five.
White and Taylor each had two hits and drove home three while Z Boyd and Lathrop also had two hit performances. Helton, Hannah Holden, and Chasity Kates each had a game two stolen base. Boyd also had a very nice leaping catch to rob a Royal base hit in game one.
Coach Matt Hornsby was pleased to see such a strong showing from his girls in the playoff rounds heading into the Elite 8 tournament.
“I thought Katelyn threw the ball really well in game one but i didn’t think our offensive approaches were very good until the fourth inning of game one. But it was good to see that we made those changes and kept it going all the way through game two,” said Hornsby after the sweep. “We had several girls hitting the ball the best they have in a while, and Abigail getting her first career homer was awesome for us.”
“Caroline coming out and pitching like a No. 1 in game two was also really big for us,” added Hornsby. “She has pitched well and showed a lot of consistency in her last few outings and this is a perfect time of the year for that to be happening. Our defense also I think just had one error tonight which was huge.”
The 10th year Lady Brave head coach says this teams compares very favorably with past teams that have made the trek to the state tourney finals.
“I think this is as well-rounded of a team that we have taken to Columbus. We’ve got bench players and obviously we have starters that on most nights are going to be better than whoever we are playing down there. We’ve also got more depth in the circle than we thought we were going to have,”Hornsby says.
The Lady Braves (26-6) will battle the state’s No. 3 ranked Harlem Bulldogs (30-3) in the first game at Columbus Thursday at 4:00 PM.
The winner of that game will play again at 10:00 Am Friday morning while the loser will play again at 2:00 PM on Friday in the double-elimination style format.
The Class AA State Championship is scheduled for 2:00 PM Saturday afternoon. All games will take place at the Columbus Softball Complex located at 400 4th St, Columbus, GA 31901. Tickets are $15 per day for Thursday and Friday and $10 per day on Saturday.