During the regular season, Bulloch Academy head softball coach Chandler Dennard would often hold his breath when the ball was hit to one of his fielders.
But not Saturday in the opening round of the GISA Class AAA fast-pitch softball playoffs.
“We were solid,” he said after the Lady Gators beat Sherwood Christian Academy in back-to-back games to win the best-of-three series. “We played very well defensively. We didn’t allow them to get started. I ride the girls pretty hard during the season about defense and all that hard work and effort is paying off. As long as we play like we did today defensively, we can play with anybody.”
Bulloch took a 4-1 victory in the morning game and a 4-0 win in the afternoon contest to advance to the second round of the playoffs. The Lady Gators (18-6) will face the Westfield Lady Hornets in Perry on Wednesday in a best-of-three series. The first game starts at 11 a.m. The Lady Eagles end their season at 14-9.
The Bulloch girls were looked phenomenal on the infield and in the outfield in both contests, committing just two errors through the 14 innings. Third baseman Ashley Burke had some super diving stops while shortstop Marianna Peebles had clean pickups and accurate throws to first base.
“Burke was a beast at third,” said Dennard. “She has good instincts. She has had some reservations this season, starting as an eighth grader at the hot corner, but I told her that I wouldn’t put her there unless I trusted her. Marianna played well at short. In fact, everybody turned in solid performances.”
Lauren Dennard picked up both wins for the Lady Gators.
“This was the first time in her career that she’s pitched back-to-back games,” said Dennard. “We (he and assistant coach Ashley Conner) made our minds up that if she pitched well in the first game, we would ride her in the second game. She threw 186 pitches. I think she’ll sleep well tonight.”
On the day, Dennard struck out eight, walked three and gave up 11 hits.
“She didn’t have many walks and let the defense do the work,” he said. “That’s what you got to do.”
Offensively, Bulloch scored its eight runs on just 10 hits.
“We didn’t hit the ball well,” said Dennard. “We manufactured some runs by getting people on base and creating some havoc.”
In the opener, Dennard, Burke and Mary Margaret Reeves had the only BA singles. Leadoff batter Rachel Gilbert waited out two walks while Peebles, Taylor Collins and Maddie Marsh had one each.
Bulloch scored single runs in the first and second on two hits and two Sherwood errors. The Lady Eagles added one in the top of the third on four hits to cut the score to 2-1. The Lady Gators answered back in the bottom of the inning, adding two for the 4-1 score.
In the second game, Gilbert was 2-for-3 with a walk. Peebles was 1-for-3 with an RBI sacrifice bunt, Collins was 1-for-3 with an RBI double and a walk, Burke was 1-for-3 and both Ally Cheshire and Marsh were1-for-4. Dennard, Reeves and Amelia Akins drew walks to get on base.
Bulloch scored two runs in the top of the first and two more in the fourth and that proved to be all that the Lady Gators would need.
“Getting two wins on just 10 hits is a testament to our defense and to Lauren’s pitching,” added Dennard.