November 26, 2020

How Sweep It Is: Lady Braves dominate at Dade County

Emma Helton (#6) accompanies an elated Janiyah Strong (#17) back the Lady Brave dugout following Janiyah’s deep game one bomb at Dade County Thursday (Photo: Tammy Bailey)

(Trenton, GA) — Following a close 3-2 home loss to fellow state contender Bremen in the Region 5-AA Championship game, the Lady Braves softball team knew they will face a more challenging schedule to reach Columbus.

The team also knew that after round one of the Class AA State Playoffs the road to Columbus would stretch many miles longer than in any previous year.

The Lady Braves took the northward leg of journey Thursday when they traveled to Trenton, GA for a Sweet 16 series versus the Region 7-AA Champion Dade County Lady Wolverines.

The reward of the 300 plus mile round trip was indeed worth it with the Lady Braves sweeping the series in convincing fashion via run rule in both games.

In an 9-1 win that kicked off the series, LilyRae Fulford continued to hit her mark in the circle. She tossing all five innings while giving up just two base hits and throwing a remarkably low 37 pitches.

A 3-run top half of the first inning from the offense gave the freshman hurler a good lead before she even took the mound.

The low pitch count also allowed Coach Matt Hornby the luxury of having his No. 1 bounce right back to start game two.

Fulford was again solid in the 8-0 game two win scattering just six hits in another five inning affair where she again accrued a low pitch count of just 49. She was again stingy with the free bases as she did not walk a single batter in earning two more playoff wins to improve her season record to 18-4.

Arguably, the best defense in school history and Fulford’s extremely good control have made for a winning combination during these state playoff where the Lady Braves have won four games by outscoring the two opponents by a combined total of 32-3 with only one game going the full seven innings.

Several Lady Braves made big plays in the field including Zekylah Boyd who turned a nice double play to kill a potential Lady Wolverine rally in game two.

Offensively, a combination of speed and power fueled the way Thursday with several Lady Braves posting some nice stats for the day.

Leading the way was first baseman Abigail Lathrop who went 4-for-6 with six RBIs including two long homers that both came in the nightcap. The second of Lathrop’s two homers ended the season for the Wolverines to close out game two.

Third baseman Janiyah Strong also had a huge day as she likewise hit a bomb in each game to finish her day with two homers and five RBIs.

Abigail Lathrop sports the coveted “Clutch” cahin after her walk-off homer to send the Lady Braves to the Elite 8 (Photo: Tammy Bailey)

Shortstop Emma Helton continued to set the table from the leadoff spot going 3-for-6 with a double, three runs scored, two RBIs, and three steals.

Left fielder Courtney Cannon’s and catcher Mackenzie White’s consistent hitting continued as each tallied three total hits for the day.

Freshman Aubrey Ussery had two hits in game two.

“It was just good to see us come in here and really execute our offensive game plan. We thought we had an idea of what both their pitchers were going to do and it was nice to see us cash in on our hard work from the last few days,” said Coach Matt Hornsby after the game. “Our preparation is what won us this series.”

Hornsby was also pleased with his freshman pitcher that went all 10 innings in the circle.

“LilyRae threw awesome today. We had plans for Chloe Scarbrough in there but after LilyRae only needed to throw 37 pitches in game one so we had to get her right back in there.”

Hornsby said it was exciting to see Lathrop have such a big day especially as teams try to pitch around his vaunted catcher Mackenzie White.

“The thing about this lineup is we’ve got Abigail in the clean-up role spot behind Mack and then we have what would be two more 4-hole hitters for most teams behind her in Alyssa Hall and Beth Taylor,” said Hornsby. “They are heating up as well and if we can get back to hitting it the the way we were in August and early September we can be scary moving forward.”

The Lady Braves (24-7) will make a long 4-hour trip to the opposite end of the state for round three next Tuesday when they travel to Nashville, Ga to face another region champ in the Rebels of Berrien. The Rebels (23-5-1) from Region 1-AA swept Jasper County Monticello Thursday to earn their own sport in the Elite 8.

Typically, the Elite 8 has all competed in double-elimination bracket at the state tournament, but due to COVID-19 only four teams from each classification will advance to Columbus meaning this upcoming additional best-of-three playoff in round three.

The Lady Braves will meet the Rebels in a doubleheader Tuesday with game times of 2:30 and 4:30 PM. If necessary, a third and deciding rubber game would start at 2:00 PM Wednesday also at Berrien High.

The winner of the series will advance to Columbus where they will meet either Jeff Davis from Region 2-AA or Lovett from Region 6-AA at 3:00 PM on Friday.

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