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Lady Raiders fall in quarterfinals, finish season 14-7

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:   Lady Raider, Brandi Sellars, dives back to the bag to avoid getting picked off in the first match of the GISA softball quarterfinals in Americus.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:
Lady Raider, Brandi Sellars, dives back to the bag to avoid getting picked off in the first match of the GISA softball quarterfinals in Americus.

By MICHAEL MURRAY
michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS – On the heels of a sweep of the first round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs, the Southland Academy Lady Raiders returned to their home diamond on Oct. 10 to commence round two. Southland’s girls faced off against the talented Trinity Christian (Dublin) Lady Crusaders for the quarterfinals.
The visiting team wasted no time showing the Lady Raiders that they came to play, as they proceeded to take a significant 10-0 win in the first test of the series. The Lady Raiders returned to the field later that afternoon, determined not to go down without a fight and took a 3-2 victory in the second game of the quarterfinals. In an incredibly tense tie-breaker match, Southland’s crew finished one run short of a comeback after Trinity built an early lead and hung on tightly to take the 8-7 win and advance to the semifinals.
The afternoon’s hard-fought battles ended the season for the Lady Raiders, whose overall record stands at 14-7 for the regular and post-seasons. Southland’s girls lost only one region match throughout the season, winning region 3-1AAA.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the first match of the quarterfinals saw Southland’s offense, uncharacteristically, stifled by the defense of the Lady Crusaders. Trinity took off early in the match, grabbing lead that they would continue to expand until the game was called after the fifth inning.
After a short break, the teams returned to the field. Upon returning to the action, Southland’s players hit the field with an improved understanding of their opponents, realizing that nothing about the battle ahead would be easy. This fact was made all-too clear early in the match, when Trinity picked up a pair of runs in the first inning. The score remained the same until the top of the fifth inning, with each team stubbornly refusing to cede any ground. Opening the fifth inning for the Lady Raiders was Cassi Bass, who managed to draw a walk. Brandi Sellars and Savanna Swann each dropped strategically-placed bunts, loading the bases as they advanced. Lady Raider heavy-hitter, Christina Davis, followed with a pop-up that was caught. As the Lady Crusaders scrambled, trying to turn a double play on the situation, Bass took the opportunity to tag up at third and came sliding home for Southland’s first score of the game.
Three quick outs in the bottom of the frame brought the Lady Raiders up to bat once more, with Brittney Tyler opening up the sixth inning with a drive that found the let field gap. Kendall Kirkland then offered up a sacrifice bunt that pushed Tyler to second.
Lady Raider pitcher, Megan Burke, then stepped up to the plate. With a powerful swing, Burke blasted a rocket off of her bat that had Lady Raider fans holding their breath, waiting to see if it would go over the fence. The shot was mere inches short of a homerun but, as it bounced off the fence, Tyler was able to cross home plate and tie the score. The hit resulted in a triple for Burke as she slid into third just in time to beat the tag to the delight of the home fans.
Kaitlyn Smith followed up this shot with a drive that sailed deep into left field, bringing in Burke, and putting the Lady Raiders ahead 3-2, where they would stay until the game’s conclusion.
Burke pitched the full game for the Lady Raiders, striking out three batters. Davis, Smith, Sellars, Swann, Tyler, and Burke each contributed one hit to the match. Davis, Burke, and Smith each batted in one RBI.
Soon after this match concluded, the two teams came back to the field to play for all the marbles in the final contest of the afternoon, the tiebreaker.
Once again, the Lady Crusaders nabbed an early lead, bringing in one run in the top of the first inning.
Southland’s girls responded immediately in the bottom of the frame, as Sellars sparked a rally with a double that blew past Trinity’s shortstop. Sellars advanced to third on a missed pitch as Tyler, now at the plate, took off for first. Davis popped one up that was dropped by Trinity’s pitcher, allowing her to load the bases.
As Lady Raider catcher, Abby Dent, stepped up to the plate to bat clean-up, another errant pitch sailed past Trinity’s catcher, allowing Sellars to come home as her teammates advanced to second and third base. Dent then slugged a bouncy grounder past second base, giving Davis and Tyler plenty of time to head home and put the Lady Raiders up 3-1 at the conclusion of the stanza.
After three quick outs in the top of the second, the Lady Raiders soon found themselves back at the plate. Olivia Perry opened the inning with a triple that she poked deep into the left field before Bass drilled a similar shot, bringing her home. The Lady Raiders held onto their 4-1 lead for the next two innings.
Trinity began staging their comeback in the top of the fourth frame, with two runners putting points on the board to narrow the gap to 4-3. The Lady Crusaders continued the assault in the top of the sixth, pushing across three more runners to take a 6-4 lead. The top of the seventh didn’t fare any better for Southland, as their opponents tacked another two runs onto their lead.
The Lady Raiders’ last stand in the bottom of the seventh saw Burke start up the action with a single that bounced down the third base line. With one out on the board, it quickly became apparent that the Lady Crusaders’’ pitcher, Gracie Thompson’s arm was feeling the wear of throwing three straight games as she plunked the Lady Raiders’ next two batters, Bass and Swann.
With the bases loaded and the stage set for a Southland comeback, Sellars stepped up to the plate and drew a walk, bringing Southland’s girls within three. Tyler followed with a fly ball that was caught before Davis picked up her bat. Davis poked a lively grounder deep into centerfield as Swann and Bass came in, adding two more as the home crowd roared their approval. Trinity’s outfielder got the ball back into play faster than anticipated, however, and caught Sellars between second and third. Despite Sellars’ evasive maneuvers, she was eventually tagged out, ending the series and the season for the Lady Raiders.
Burke pitched all seven innings of the heated match, recording no strikeouts or walks.
Dent and Davis each contributed two hits in the team’s final match, both bringing in two RBIs. Bass batted in one runner.