Lady Raiders take second in 3-AAA softball after three-game showdown with Tiftarea
Published 11:09 am Monday, October 3, 2016
By MICHAEL MURRAY
For the third year in a row, the Southland Academy Lady Raiders have earned themselves a spot in the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) state playoffs.
With a region record of 7-2, counting the team’s region championship defeat on Sept. 27, the Lady Raiders have secured the number-two spot in GISA Region 3-AAA for 2016. The Lady Raiders completed regular-season competition with an overall record of 12-8.
As the regular season drew to a close, the Lady Raiders found themselves with the same region record as Tiftarea Academy’s Lady Panthers, with both teams entering their final match-ups undefeated in region play. The Lady Raiders vied for the number-one position in a series of contests against the Lady Panthers in a series that lasted from Sept. 19 to Sept. 22, eventually taking a pair of defeats.
Southland won the series’ first match-up on the road 9-3 in Chula on Sept. 19. Tiftarea then traveled to Americus to deal the Lady Raiders a 6-5 loss on Sept. 22 and force a tiebreaker round. The teams met again in Americus on Sept. 27 and, after a fierce battle, the Lady Raiders succumbed to a late Tiftarea Rally and suffered a 5-4 defeat.
The Lady Raiders will host the Westfield Lady Hornets on Oct. 4 for the first round of the state playoffs in Americus. Matches are scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. An “If” game will be held at 3:00 if necessary.
In Southland’s opening contest of the series against Tiftarea, the Lady Raiders scored one run in the first inning. Tiftarea answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame, one of which was unearned.
Down 2-1, the Lady Raiders came back in the third inning, plating two runners to take a 3-2 lead after a series of doubles from Holly McCain, Olivia Payne, and Sara Beth Storey.
Tiftarea tied the score in the bottom of the frame.
The Lady Raiders scored one in the top of the fourth after Savannah Swann led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. McCain followed with a double to drive in Swann. Kaitlyn Smith belted her first out-of-the park homerun of the year in the bottom of the fifth to add to Southland’s cushion before the Lady Raiders sparked a rally in the top of the seventh, adding four more runs.
Perry led off the seventh inning with a single, followed by hits from Storey, Rees Roland, and Brittany Tyler. Swann capped off the rally with a double, leaving the Lady Raiders up 9-3 at the conclusion of the game.
Swann took the pitcher’s circle for six innings of the match, striking out seven batters and giving up no walks. Swann allowed two earned runs.
Swann hit 3-5, stealing one base and contributing two runs and an RBI. McCain collected two hits on three at-bats, nailing doubles on each of her connections. McCain brought in one RBI. Perry and Storey each hit 3-4 with a pair of doubles. Smith knocked it out of the park on her sole hit of the match. Tyler connected on two hits to contribute one RBI.
In total, the Lady Raiders collected 15 hits in the game.
“We played great,” said Lady Raider head coach, John Brady, in a post-game interview. “We played really, really well. It was probably the best game we’ve played all year… Savanna [Swann] pitched well. We swung the bats probably as well as we have all year.”
The teams returned to the diamond in Americus for what had the potential to be their final region match-ups of the season on Sept. 22. The Lady Raiders hit the diamond determined to take the victory and, subsequently, the region title, but Tiftarea made it clear early on that they would not go down without a fight.
The Lady Raiders opened the scoring on a pair of walks which put a runner in scoring position. Storey then drove her in. The score was tied 1-1 by the third frame.
The Lady Raiders scored two runs in the fourth stanza, sparked by a double from Tyler, followed a single off of Swann’s bat. McCain followed with a double to bring in Tyler and Swann.
Southland held on tightly to their 3-1 lead until the top of the sixth when Tifatrea broke the silence, scoring an earned run.
The Lady Raiders rebuilt their pad in the bottom of the sixth when McCain reached second and was driven in by Smith.
In the top of the seventh, things began to turn around. Tiftarea loaded the bases with no outs and followed with several hits and a sacrifice fly to pull ahead 6-4.
When Southland returned to the dugout, the Lady Raiders loaded the bases themselves, but were unable to push in more than one run, eventually suffering the 6-5 defeat and forcing a tiebreaker for the region title.
Swann pitched six innings, giving up four earned runs and striking out six batters. Swann didn’t walk a single batter. Tyler handled the final inning, giving up two hits and striking out one batter.
Swann hit 2-4 with one stolen base, one RBI, and a run. McCain hit 2-4, contributing two RBIs and a double. Abby Dent hit 2-5. Smith plated one runner on her sole connection of the contest. Tyler hit 2-4 with a double.
In the match, the Lady Raiders left five runners on base in the first two innings.
“That game was one of the toughest losses I’ve had,” Brady said. “I’ve coached baseball and softball… between three and four hundred games as a head coach and more as an assistant… That loss was one of the top four or five losses of my coaching career. I felt like that was one that we let get away. It was a tough one to swallow. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
With their records tied again, the teams hit the diamond once more in Americus to determine the region champion on Sept. 27.
Tiftarea opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning with one run.
Southland answered in the top of the third after Philpott and Abby Lightner singled. A pair of sacrifice flies by Swann and Dent drove in the two runners.
The Lady Panthers added another pair in the bottom of the third to go up 3-2, where the score stayed until the top of the sixth.
In the sixth inning, the Lady Raiders took their final lead of the game after scoring two runs. Smith opened with a single before Storey drew a walk. Tyler offered up a sacrifice fly to put the two runners within striking distance and Philpott then belted a single to drive the runners in.
With a 4-3 lead, the Lady Raiders entered the bottom of the sixth frame. Tiftarea retook the lead at that point and guarded their advantage until the end of the game, taking the 5-4 win and the region crown.
Swann pitched the entire match, gaining a pair of strikeouts and giving up two walks.
Swann gained one hit and a stolen base in the match as well. Smith hit one pitch and crossed the plate once. Philpott connected on all three of her at-bats and contributed two RBIs.
“We made a couple of mistakes. I feel like we shouldn’t have even been in that playoff game,” Brady told the Times-Recorder. “We had them where we wanted them in [the previous game] and couldn’t close the deal. On the surface, it’s disappointing, but it doesn’t define our season by any stretch. We’ve had a good year. We’ve won 11 games and are the region runners-up. Considering some of the players that we’ve graduated in the last couple of years, I think we probably exceeded a lot of people’s expectations. I think we played really well this season as a whole and we get to host the first round of the playoffs and add [a region runner-up] trophy to the trophy case. If we look at the big picture, we’ve had a good year so far.”
Southland honored the team’s senior members, Dent, Smith, and Mary Martin Shealy, during a non-region contest against Crisp Academy on Oct. 28.
“We are proud of these girls and what they’ve done for our program,” Brady said. “Of course, we wish them the best and hate that they’re leaving us. They’ve been great kids. We’re really proud of them. I’m sure they’ll do really great things for themselves in the future.”
Brady went on to say that, over the last three years, the Lady Raiders are 30-3 (counting the playoff match) in Region 3-IAAA play.
“These seniors, especially, have had a good run in region 3-AAA, with two region championships and a runner-up. These girls should be proud of what they’ve done,” he concluded.