(Franklin, GA) — The Lady Braves softball team swept the visiting Pepperell Lady Dragons from Region 7-AA in the first round of the GHSA Class AA State Playoffs Tuesday afternoon in Franklin.
The senior pitching duo of Katelyn Jiles and Caroline Jones led the way in the circle with each earning a playoff win.
In a 7-2 game one win, Jiles was again sharp tossing the full seven innings and allowing just two hits and a single earned run.
Jones started the 11-1 game two win that went just five innings. Jones scattered four hits and allowed just one earned in her four plus innings of work with Brianna Hill coming in to close it out in relief. Hill retired both batters that she faced.
Several Lady Braves had solid hitting performances in the sweep. Leading the way was sophomore shortstop Emma Helton who went 5-for-8 with two walks, a stolen base, and five runs scored.
Emma Helton has been stellar at the top of the lineup for the Lady Braves this season (Photo: Jeff Napier)
The star shortstop says one of the hallmarks of the 2019 edition of the Lady Braves has been the camaraderie both on and off the field.
“The key for us this year has been family and being really close as a team on and off the field,” said Emma Helton after the round one sweep.
Helton has been a huge asset at the top of the lineup, but says she doesn’t worry as much about her personal batting average as she does just getting on base anyway that she can.
Coach Matt Hornsby says her skills at the top of the lineup have been crucial to the team’s success this year.
“Emma’s always on base and she’s literally batting over .500 right now but yet her on base percentage is even way better than that. It is unreal,” says Hornsby.
“We knew we were going to need to have Emma as our lead-off hitter but to be honest coming into this year we would never have guessed she would have the year that she’s had. She’s been just awesome and she makes very good adjustments at the plate. She might take an ugly swing but then on her next swing she will have whatever issue it was fixed and that’s what you have to do to be successful at this level.”
The coach says he was pleased to see his squad bounce back for a strong game two after struggling a bit in the game one win versus Pepperell.
“I’ll be honest that first game was pretty ugly, but I thought we made adjustments and looked much better in game two,” Hornsby said.”Our energy and approaches at the plate were much better and our execution on defense was much better. I was very proud of Katelyn and Caroline — they both threw great today. Brianna Hill also did a great job for us in closing out game two.”
Junior Beth Taylor had a big day as well going 4-for-8 with a double, a triple, and two RBI’s. Catcher Mackenzie White went 4-for-8 with a double and two batted in.
In game two, the only Lady Brave to record multiple hits was junior Alyssa Hall who got the designated player start and recorded three hits with two runs scored and an RBI.
The Lady Braves (23-6) may face a tougher challenge in the Sweet 16 when they host the Bleckley County Royals (16-11) from Region 3-AA.
The series will be a round two rematch from a 2016 series that the Lady Braves won 4-3 in dramatic fashion on a game three walk-off base hit from then senior Hannah Stephens that scored Aspen Barker. A win in next week’s series would send the Lady Braves back to Columbus for a remarkable seventh time in eight years.
The Sweet 16 series versus the Royals at Heard High will begin with a Tuesday doubleheader (4:00/6:00 PM) and a possible third game would be played on Wednesday (5:00 PM) if necessary.
As expected, Region 5-AA fared well in the first round against Region 7-AA with three of the four 5-AA teams advancing.
No. 2 seed Lamar County swept Chattooga and will travel to Dodge County in round two while Bremen eliminated Dade County on the road in three games. Callaway fell to state power Rockmart in a doubleheader sweep on the road.
Other Class AA teams advancing to the Sweet 16 included Vidalia, Harlem, Union County, East Laurens, Jeff Davis, Monticello, Bacon County, Banks County, Berrien, and Rabun County.
The eight remaining teams after round two will travel to Columbus for the state finals tournament October 24-26.