After losing in the state championship game last season, Bulloch Academy softball coach Kyle Chambers asked the GISA to reconsider their questionable policy of playing three straight playoff games in one day. The rule was not changed, and on Monday the Gators were once again forced to play three games in one day, and unfortunately came one run shy.
Bulloch lost to John Milledge Academy 6-2 in Monday's first game, came back to win game two 4-0, and then lost the decisive third game by a count of 2-1.
Monday marked the second straight year that the Gators played three games in the elite eight. Last year Bulloch won game three at Valwood, this year they lost the decisive game by a single run at 2-1.
The Gators actually had the go-ahead run at the plate with two outs, but JMA shortstop Olivia Rhodes made a diving stop off a hot shot by Leah Williford, and then threw a bullet to first to get Williford by a nose and secure the victory.
After the game the Gator seniors — most of whom Chambers has coached since middle school — were visably emotional as they saw their high school softball careers come to a close.
“I just want to give thanks to our five seniors, without them we aren’t here today,” said Chambers. “These girls are responsible for where our program has gotten the last few years, including making it to the championship game last year. They have been the best group to coach, on and off the field they have great character, and will all do quite well in their futures.”
Game one was a story of missed opportunities for the Gators, as they left 13 runners on base. The Gators scored two runs in the first on a walk with the bases loaded and an RBI single by Liv Finley. Bulloch Academy actually led 2-1 in the sixth before JMA came back to score two runs on a two-run single to center by Cadence Bandows to take a 3-2 lead.
Chambers pulled starter Baylee Howard at the end of the sixth, and the Trojans scored three more runs in the top of the seventh for the final score of 6-2. Howard ended up pitching 20 innings and gave up only five runs, while striking out 16 Trojan batteries.
“Baylee really battled out there for us today,” Chambers said. Pitching 20 innings is tough enough, but she gave it all she had, just as she has all season.”
In game two Howard was sharp again, as was the Gator defense. Howard allowed only four hits, while striking out four. She got some offensive help early as Regan Ellis drove home Williford with a single to left in the first for a 1-0 lead.
Hartlee Faircloth provided the rest of the runs in the top of the third. With runners on second and third Faircloth just missed a home run as the bell hit off the fence in left. The throw got away, and Faircloth came all the way in to score for a 4-0 Gator lead.
That was all Howard needed as she finished off her 13th inning pitched, and set up game three, which didn’t begin until after 5:00, and with the Gators not having lights, there was a chance the game would have to be extended to Tuesday.
JMA scored the first run in the first as Howard issued a walk with the bases loaded. They then scored what proved to be the winning run in the top of the second on a controversial play. With runners on first and second Emily Walker hit a slow roller to first, BA third baseman Kacie Ricketts fired to Gator second baseman Sloan Aubrey who was covering first. Aubrey made the catch and was then taken out by a Walker forearm shiver that put her on her back, and allowed Ella Hudgens to score from third for a 2-0 lead.
The Gators scratched through for a run in the bottom of the second as Allie Beth Presley hit a hard shot to third, that was thrown away, allowing Faircloth to score and cutting the lead to 2-1.
The Gators left runners on base in the third, fourth and fifth inning, and then ended the game with a runner on base.
“We did a great job of getting on base, and just didn’t have great at bats wen we needed to bring people in,” Chamber said. “This John Milledge team lost by one run twice this year to Westfield, who won the state a year ago. They are a good team, and we came pretty close to knocking them off and going back to the final four. It’s been a great run, and it’s been an honor to coach these girls”