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Lady Gators clinch region championship
BA Softball
Bulloch Academy players celebrate after a walk-off victory clinched a region championship during the back end of a Monday doubleheader against Trinity Christian in Dublin. - photo by JOSH AUBREY/staff

The Bulloch Academy Gators came into Monday night’s season finale with Trinity knowing the region title was on the line. The Crusaders had already lost to Pinewood, so all the Gators had to do was win one of the two games in their doubleheader, and they’d be region champs. They had to sweat things out, but after losing 6-1, the Gators took the nightcap in thrilling fashion winning 2-1 with a walk off hit by Leah Williford in the 8th inning.

With the game tied at 1-1 after seven innings of play the international tie-breaker was in place. Each team starts the inning with a runner on second. Trinity was the visiting team in the second game, so they started with Maci Cannady on second, and Adelaide Moss at the plate. Moss laid down a bunt, and Gator third baseman Kacie Ricketts fielded the ball and fired to third where shortstop Leah Williford tagged Cannady out.

“That was a play we had talked about,” said Bulloch Academy coach Nikki Perkins. “We knew they would try and move the runner with a bunt, and I told Kacie if she bunts it hard to you, throw the runner at third. She and Leah both did a great job listening and executing that play.”

The Gators got out of the jam, and then started their half of the inning with freshman Jordan Taulbee at second. Tanner Kaiser attempted a pair of bunts, but then struck out, Sophie Strickland was then able to put down a sacrifice bunt. and moved Taulbee to third. Williford then ripped a single past a diving Cannady at short, bringing Taulbee home and sending the team celebrating on the field.

“We hit the ball well both games, but we just kept hitting them right to them,” Perkins said. “We were able to get the job done though when we had to. Sophie did her job moving the runner, and I was confident that Leah would come through, and she did.”

Almost lost in the excitement was the phenomenal job eighth grader McKenna Furnari did on the mound against a formidable Trinity lineup. Furnari held Trinity to just two hits in eight innings of work, and had four strikeouts. Furnari was forced into the starting lineup as starting pitcher Sydney Priest was forced to miss the game due to COVID-19 protocol.

You can’t say enough about what a fantastic job McKenna did out there tonight,” Perkins said. “We found out Friday that Sydney was going to have to miss the games, so we told Kacie and McKenna that we would be counting on them. That’s a lot to ask of an eighth grader, but she sure stepped up.”

The Gators scored only one run in game one, and had issues in the field that helped cost them runs as they fell 6-1. In game two the defense was flawless, and helped get Furnari out of a jam in the fourth. Furnari walked in a run with the bases loaded, but got some help to get out of the inning. With the infield in, the Crusaders hit a ground ball back to Furnari who threw home to force the runner from third, catcher Claibourne Jones then fired to Hartlee Faircloth at first to end the inning.

“That was a great heads up play,” said Perkins. “The wheels could have come off at that point, but McKenna made a heads up play, and Claibourne did a great job gunning down the runner at first."

The Gators scored the tying run in the sixth inning. Sophie Strickland led off with an infield single. She advanced to second on a Williford bunt, and moved to third on a single to center. Faircloth then hit a fly ball to right field deep enough to bring Strickland in from third.

The win caps off the Gators second straight region title, and the first for Perkins. Up next the Gators await their fate on Wednesday. Bulloch Academy entered the game ranked fifth in the latest Power Poll. The top four teams host the opening round of the state Saturday for a doubleheader.