December 5, 2020

Lady Braves punch ticket to Columbus

(Franklin) — The Lady Braves continued to shine in all facets of the game Wednesday afternoon as they shut down the visiting Armuchee Indians by final scores of 4-0 and 8-0 in the Sweet-16 round of the GHSA fast pitch state softball playoffs.

Coach Matt Hornsby’s squad once again combined solid defense, timely hitting, and stellar pitching from ace Jordan Watson to advance to next week’s Elite-8 State Championship tournament in Columbus for the third year in a row.

Watson seems to be peaking at the right time with a remarkable 29 consecutive scoreless innings pitched during a postseason where the Lady Braves are 6-0 and have outscored region and state playoff opponents by an astounding score of 46-1.

Three of the top performers in Wednesday's sweep (L-R): Center fielder Johanna Beyer (3-run HR), left fielder Madison Whitehead (2-5, 2 RBI's), and first baseman Hannah Stephens (3-6, 3  runs scored)

Three of the top performers in Wednesday’s sweep (L-R): Center fielder Johanna Beyer (3-run HR), left fielder Madison Whitehead (2-5, 2 RBI’s), and first baseman Hannah Stephens (3-6, 3 runs scored)

As a team, the Lady Braves’ pitchers have not allowed a run in 32 straight innings.

Watson allowed just seven hits and two walks Wednesday in her nine innings pitched versus the Indians.

Sarah Schofield and Hattie Yarbrough came on in relief of Watson and combined for three shutout innings allowing no runs on three hits.

“Jordan was spot on today and Sarah came in and did her job — throwing strikes and letting them beat it into the ground,” Hornsby said.

“Then Hattie came in and finished it up for us. These two pitchers haven’t thrown in a game for a couple of weeks so that shows how hard they have been working at practice to stay ready.”

Another huge key in the sweep was once again the defense. In addition to handling the routine plays well, several Lady Braves made outstanding individual plays including diving grabs by center fielder Johanna Beyer and left fielder Madison Whitehead.

Junior Anna Shelnutt picked an Indian runner off of second base to end game one showing again why she is such a highly touted catching prospect for FSU.

“I just felt like our defense was on point today,” said Coach Hornsby. “Everybody looked like they were always expecting the ball to be hit to them and it is hard to get high school kids to do that when you have to play 14 innings and you have to be ready on every single pitch.”

Offensively, the bottom of the order for the Lady Braves has continued to carry a large share of the load as opposing teams try to avoid pitching to the murderer’s row of Cali Harrod, Shelnutt, Watson, and breakout sophomore third baseman Hannah Sanders.

Another sophomore, first baseman Hannah Stephens, may be the hottest hitter in the line-up heading to Columbus next week after going 3 for 6 with three runs scored and an RBI Wednesday afternoon.

The biggest hit of the day was delivered by junior left fielder Madison Whitehead who went 2 for 5 in the doubleheader. Whitehead’s two-run double to right-center in the bottom of the second inning of game one really kick-started the offense off of the sharp Armuchee pitcher Hannah Murray.

Johanna Beyer only had one hit at the plate Wednesday but she got her money’s worth, blasting a long 3-run homer to left field to spark a five run top of the first inning in game two. Watson also blasted a solo shot in game one and was 4 for 5 on the day with four RBI’s.

Cali Harrod had three hits and two RBI’s in the final game of her storied high school career. The future FSU Seminole was visibly emotional after the game as she gathered up a small peace of sod from the field for a keepsake but her focus is clearly on one thing and one thing only and that is the state tournament.

“We are working hard at practice — we know we could only have a couple of games left and we are not taking anything for granted,” said the senior shortstop.  “We want a state championship more than anything — it has been my dream since I was a little girl and this team is really capable of doing it — which is exciting.”

The three day tournament will take place next week from Thursday through Saturday at the South Commons Softball Complex to determine the state champion not just in Class AA but all classifications in the state.

The Lady Braves will take on the #2 seed Swainsboro from Region 3-AA who upset Berrien County on the road 9-1 and 9-3 Wednesday. One of the top teams in the state, the Harlem Bulldogs, were upset by the #3 seed from Region 2 Vidalia.

Other AA teams advancing to the tourney on Wednesday were top ranked Gordon Lee, Bacon County, Jeff Davis, and Social Circle. The final team to earn a spot will be determined today when Wesleyan takes on Union County in the third game of their series.

Stay tuned to for more information and a full state tournament preview.




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