September 16, 2021

Lady Braves advance to State Championship game at 4:00 PM Saturday in Columbus

(Columbus, GA) — The Heard County Lady Braves softball team is on the verge of history after earning two big day one wins on the biggest stage of them all at the GHSA Class AA State Tournament in Columbus.

The Region 5-AA runner-up Lady Braves took down Class AA Region Champions for the fourth straight time in the postseason including the No. 1 ranked team in the state Vidalia.

Mackenzie White with her walk-off home run ball from a game one win over Lovett

Mackenzie White launched a walk-off grand slam in game one Friday to defeat the private school Lovett 11-1 via the run rule in six innings.

In game two Friday night, the Lady Braves scratched and clawed for seven full innings behind freshman pitcher LilyRae Fulford to knock off the top ranked Vidalia Indians 3-2 in the winner’s bracket finals.

As a result, the Lady Braves will play for a State Championship at 4:00 PM today at the South Commons Softball Complex.

Lovett and Vidalia will meet today at 2:00 PM to determine the opponent for the Lady Braves in the championship.

The Lady Braves are just one win away from the Class AA State Title while the opponent will need to defeat the Lady Braves two times to be the champs.

Region 5-AA Champion Bremen was eliminated from the bracket Friday after losses to both Vidalia and Lovett.

The Lady Braves were the home team versus Lovett in game one and found themselves in deep trouble early on after the Lions loaded the bases with no outs.

Fulford and the Lady Braves infield would respond in a big way though with third baseman Janiyah Strong making two great plays to get runners at the plate. That was followed up with a big stop by Zekylah Boyd at second base that she flipped to shortstop Emma Helton to end the first inning with no damage.

Coach Matt Hornsby thought the great defense by his infield in that moment really made a statement early on in the day.

“Janiyah made two awesome plays right there and Zekylah Boyd was bound and determined that hard-hit ball was not getting to the outfield — she got down and blocked that ball almost like a catcher and then knew Emma would be there for the flip. I thought that really set the tone for our day,” said Hornsby.

Offensively, Emma Helton set the pace with a lead-off triple and scored on a double by the two hole hitter Janiyah Strong in the bottom of the first.

Senior Beth Taylor had a huge game at the plate with a two RBI single in the first and a 2-run homer to break the game open in the fifth prior to White’s walk-off slam in the sixth. Taylor will be trying to win a State Championship on her 18th birthday today.

In the epic game two showdown win over the Indians, it was a pair of freshmen that led the way to the 3-2 win for the Lady Braves over the top-ranked Indians.

Aubree Ussery drove home two runs early with a hard hit double for the Lady Braves to account for most of the scoring versus the hard throwing star Indian pitcher Bailey Holland.

Ussery then made a base-hit robbing diving catch in centerfield but unfortunately suffered a broken finger in the process. Ussery had to be taken to the hospital for x-rays.

Coach Hornsby was impressed by his young player’s play prior to her heartbreaking injury.

“Aubree’s just been awesome for us. You talk about getting hot at the right time — and to start the season she wasn’t even an outfielder,” said Hornsby. “To go up there against a pitcher (Holland) throwing that hard and to have that approach to turn on the first pitch — obviously we don’t win the game without her.”

Speedy sophomore Chasity Kates entered the game for Ussery and played well defensively in Ussery’s absence.

GuataBallin’ LilyRae Fulford looked right at home opposite the big pitcher to push her tremendous season record to 22-4. Her lone mistake came on a 2-run homer by Indian slugger Tori Wright that tied the game at 2-2.

A hard hit grounder by Janiyah Strong scored the winning run for the Lady Braves.

Freshman LilyRae Fulford sports the Lady Brave “clutch” chain after Friday night’s epic 3-2 win over Vidalia

Hornsby was very proud of the truly gutsy performance from his freshman pitcher under such intense pressure.

“As coaches before the tournament we had talked about the fact that if we could win game one, we thought LilyRae might be better in game two for two reasons: the shock factor would be gone and she would be a little bit tired — which means her pitches are going to move more,” Hornsby said after the game.

“And you could see by some of the swings they took that her pitches were moving like crazy and she was hitting her spots. She left one pitch up but other than that I thought she pitched as good of a game as she could possibly pitch.”

Hornsby says even though the Lady Braves have the advantage today of needing just the one win that it will still be tough going against either Lovett or Vidalia.

“It is going to be tough tomorrow because these are pitchers down here that can beat you twice,” said Hornsby.

Fans wanting to make the trip to Columbus for the State Championship today can purchase tickets online at GoFan for $10 each. Tickets are unavailable at the gate and must be purchased online. Fans are encouraged to bring their own chairs as no bleacher seats are available due to COVID-19 rules.

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