(Franklin, GA) — The Heard County Lady Braves begin the 2019 regular season this week and are currently ranked at No. 6 in the state in Class AA by Score Atlanta.
The defending Region 5-AA Champions have been preparing for this opening week all summer and closed out the preseason with a scrimmage versus Class 6A’s No. 8 ranked Alexander Cougars at UWG Friday.
The Cougars edged the Lady Braves 4-2 in a hard-fought contest that didn’t see the Cougars on the scoreboard until a three-run rally in the bottom half of the sixth inning.
Senior Katelyn Jiles led the way with four strong innings on the mound and catcher Mackenzie White provided the biggest spark offensively with a lead-off solo homer in the top half of the second.
Senior Tori Caldwell and junior Beth Taylor also had hits in the inning and a bases-loaded walk to Jiles brought home the games second run. Senior Caroline Jones battled hard in her two innings of work on the hill and sophomore Brianna Hill closed out the game with a solid inning of work in the seventh.
Sophomore pitcher Brianna Hill on the mound during Friday’s scrimmage at UWG
The Lady Braves have a nice blend of youth and experience this season with five seniors, four juniors, and seven sophomores.
In addition to the senior tandem of pitchers Jiles and Jones, the other seniors this year include Caldwell, Brittany Graley, and Hannah Holden.
Caldwell was in center field Friday with Holden in left.
Graley will back up White at the catcher position and could be a key piece at the plate after a strong summer offensively, says Hornsby.
Hornsby says he is still tinkering with his batting order and stating line-up but sophomore newcomer Zekylah “Z” Boyd was at second base for Friday’s scrimmage and slotted at the top of the batting lineup.
Returning standout sophomore shortstop Emma Helton batted second Friday with fellow returning sophomore third baseman Janiyah Strong batting third before White who was in the clean-up spot.
Taylor batted fifth followed by sophomore first baseman Abigail Lathrop, Holden, and DP Alyssa Hall, a junior who also saw late inning action at third base.
Rounding out the roster of 16 where everyone will likely play a vital role are juniors Sydney Goddard and Christina Garcia along with sophomore Courtney Cannon.
With a strong offensive line-up top to bottom, Hornsby knows that pitching and defense will be key areas for his squad if they want to make another trip back to Columbus.
“I thought our pitchers looked really good in Friday’s scrimmage. Katelyn Jiles threw like the No. 1 that she is and Caroline Jones has thrown really good all summer — she didn’t have her best stuff today but she still buckled down and got out of some huge jams to give us a chance to win,” said Hornsby after the scrimmage. “If we just make the routine defensive plays behind her then Caroline probably still doesn’t give up any runs.”
“Brianna Hill also did what we needed her to do today and could really compliment our first two pitchers very well, added Hornsby. “Even though she doesn’t throw as hard with her movement she could be a key for us in the late innings.”
Hornsby also knows that as always leadership will be a key factor if the Lady Braves hope to defend the Region 5-AA crown and make another strong run at a state title. He will be counting on several different girls to fill those leadership roles.
“Beth Taylor and Tori Caldwell will be two of our best vocal leaders out there and Emma Helton is one of those that she may not say a whole lot and is almost sometimes to nice to say anything to someone else, but she is also going to lead by example — she’s never going to go 50% at practice — it’s always going to be 100% and laying out for every ball she can,” says Hornsby.
“Ultimately, however, our pitchers in the circle will be vital. Regardless of how our offense or defense does our pitching is what is going to lead us there and they have all three done a great job this summer.”
Offensively, the Lady Braves return a lot of pop in the heart of the lineup.
“We expect our offensive production to come from many of the same girls as last year. We’re still toying with the top of the lineup and we like all of our options in the lead-off spot and No. 2 hole, and then you’ve got almost like it used to be for us — a murderer’s row from Strong to White to Taylor and following them Hannah Holden has really been hitting it well,” says Hornby.
“Another new young bat to be on the lookout for off of our bench is Courtney Cannon — she has shown some real promise this off-season.
As usual, the Lady Braves will take on some of the best non-region foes in the state across all classifications especially during the first six games of the season including battles against two of No. 1 ranked teams in Georgia.
The squad will travel to Class AAAA No. 8 ranked Central of Carrollton Tuesday (5:00 PM) in the season opener tomorrow before returning home to battle Villa Rica (6:00 PM) on Wednesday.
The team then travels to East Coweta this Friday to meet the Class 7A No. 1 ranked Indians (8:00 pm) and the Class 7A No. 8 ranked Hillgrove (6:00 PM).
The Lady Braves will close out the six game gauntlet next Saturday, August 17 when they travel to the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega to take on powerful private schools Class A Private No. 1 ranked Wesleyan and Lovett (2:00/4:00 PM).