(Franklin, GA) — The Lady Braves endured scorching temperatures during a long day of softball at Heard High Thursday to once again capture a Region 5-AA Championship.
It was the seventh region crown for Matt Hornsby and the Lady Braves during his 10th season as head coach and even more importantly secured the host squad a No. 1 seed heading into next week’s GHSA Class AA State Playoffs.
The road to the region crown on Thursday was eerily similar to 2018 as the team knocked off Callaway in the noon game 6-0 before coming back later in the evening to defeat Lamar County 8-5 in the title game.
Acquiring the No. 1 seed during the regular season proved to be crucial for the Lady Braves Thursday with the normal top seed advantages being magnified even more so on a sweltering day in the heat with temperatures in the upper 90’s all day long.
Coach Hornsby decided to throw his No. 2 starter and senior Caroline Jones in game one versus Callaway and that decision proved crucial as Jones tossed a complete game shutout that not only advanced her team but allowed for No. 1 starter Katelyn Jiles to be well-rested for the title game.
In the 6-0 win over the Lady Cavs, Jones allowed just three hits and three walks to earn the important semifinal win.
“Caroline was awesome today. She had control problems a couple of times and got into a couple of jams but she just fixed it all herself and got out of it when she needed to.” said Hornsby. “That allowed Katelyn to be able to be fresh and throw as hard as she did in the title game. If we didn’t take care of our business in the regular season then we would’ve had to do things much differently today.”
Sophomore Janiyah Strong led the way offensively in game one with a homer and three RBI’s. Other top hitters in the game one win were senior Brittany Graley who went 2-for-3 with two doubles and senior Tori Caldwell who was 2-for-3.
In the 7-5 Region Championship game win over Lamar County, Jiles earned her 15th win of the season in a hard-fought contest versus one of the top hitting line-ups in the state. She allowed eight hits and two walks while striking out six.
Janiyah Strong again delivered the big blow in the title game, a two run homer that drove home Emma Helton to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the first after the Trojans jumped out to an early 2-0 lead.
Strong’s blast was one of the longest ever hit at HCHS. She had another key hit to bring home Helton in the bottom of the third that again tied the game up at 4-4.
After another Lamar homer tied the game at 5-5 in the top of the fifth, the Lady Braves again responded when Mackenzie White and Abigail Lathrop each delivered run-scoring base hits that would give the Braves a 7-5 lead and end the scoring on the night for both teams.
Jiles closed out her performance with solid work in the sixth and seventh innings and was aided by a stellar diving catch from Caldwell in center field to end the sixth inning for the Trojans.
Lady Brave senior pitcher Katelyn Jiles
“Lamar always has talent and I think this is the best Lamar team we have ever played. They can swing it with the best of them,” said Hornsby after the game.
“Our girls just kept taking the big blows and fighting back and so did they, but thankfully we were able to get the big hit last. Katelyn being able to go through the top of their lineup in the sixth and seventh innings without allowing them to score was just huge for us.”
The Class AA No. 2 ranked Lady Braves finished the regular season with a 22-6 record while going an impressive 11-1 in a Region 5-AA that features three top 10 teams in the state rankings.
The Lady Braves won’t have much time to celebrate as the GHSA Class AA State Playoffs and the official road to Columbus will begin next week.
The Lady Braves (22-6) will first host Pepperell (12-9), the No. 4 seed from Region 7-AA in a best-of-three series starting with a doubleheader Tuesday (Time TBA) at HCHS. With a split, the teams would face a third and deciding “if” game on Wednesday.
With a win in that series the Lady Braves would host the winner between Bleckley County (14-10) and Thomasville (12-10) in round two in another three game series beginning on October 15. The winner of that Sweet 16 series would advance to Columbus for the State Championship Elite 8 tournament October 24-26.