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Lady Gators prepare for state semis
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The members of the Bulloch Academy varsity softball team held their heads a little higher and had a little extra bounce in their steps Tuesday after earning their first-ever trip to the GISA Class AA state championship tournament.
    Bulloch won three consecutive games, including two by the mercy-rule, last Saturday in Dublin to win its bracket in the Class AA tournament’s opening round and become one of just four teams that will battle for the 2006 fast-pitch softball crown.
    “It was kind of funny to watch the final game,” recalled Bulloch Academy head coach Chandler Dennard. “When we got up 10-1 over Tiftarea in the fourth inning, the girls were trying to contain their emotion because they knew they were going to the final four. They were pacing back and forth in their positions, just waiting for that final out.”
    The Lady Gators (22-4) will open the four-team, double-elimination tournament this Saturday, which will be held at Southern Pines Regional Athletic Complex in Dublin at 10 a.m. against Brentwood School from Sandersville. Trinity Christian School from Dublin and Griffin Christian High School from Griffin are the other two squads in the tournament.
    Going into the final week of the season, the Lady Crusaders of Trinity were the state’s top ranked team with the Lady Eagles of Brentwood at No. 2. The Lady Gators were third while Griffin Christian was tied for fourth. Three of Bulloch’s four losses have come at the hands of Brentwood and Trinity.
    “We know what we’re up against this Saturday,” said Dennard. “There are really no unknowns. Trinity and Brentwood have been the top two teams in the state all year long and we’ve had three good games with them. They’re going to come to play and so are we.”
    When all schools played slow-pitch softball, Bulloch Academy was the state champion in 1976 and ’78,  state runner-ups in ’77 and ’85, and advanced to the Final Four in ’86 and ’87. Saturday’s trip to Dublin marks the first time since the program switched to fast-pitch the Lady Gators have advanced to the championship tournament.
    Bulloch will be led by its two freshmen pitchers, Kelcie Jacobs and Sunni Salzman.     Salzman (10-2, 2 saves) picked up two wins during last weekend’s tournament, pitching a no-hitter in a 15-0, three-inning drubbing of Furtah Prep and coming for in relief in a 2-2 tie against Piedmont Academy, a game BA won, 5-2.
    Jacobs picked up a run-rule victory over Tiftarea Academy in the bracket title game to run her record to 12-2.
    The Lady Gators’ offensive production has been fairly consistent from top to bottom. In last Saturday’s tournament, sophomore Kaylee Lanier had three singles and two doubles with three RBI while senior Kim Denton had four hits and an RBI.
    “Everybody contributed,” said Dennard. “I think everybody had at least one hit. It’s real important that the entire lineup can produce. It takes a lot of pressure off the pitching staff if they know that they are going to get some run support.
    “Also when everybody hits, it gets you as a team into a good rhythm and a good frame of mind,” added Dennard. “For example, we had 10 hits in the first game (15-0 win over Furtah Prep) and it set the tone for the remainder of the tournament.”