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Gators dealt early exit from state playoffs
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Trinity players celebrate behind a disappointed Mattie Wynn Hendrix of Bulloch Academy after the final out Tuesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Despite a great second half to the season, Bulloch Academy’s run ended with a sweep at the hands Trinity Sharpsburg in the first round of the GISA playoffs.
    After starting the season 0-8, it wasn’t in anyone’s wildest dreams would BA be hosting a state playoff game. With eight freshmen comprising a 15-player roster and a first-year head coach, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year and a learning experience for the Lady Gators.
    “That’s the hardest part of all of this,” said head coach Kyle Chambers. “If we had traveled somewhere and were the underdog, I think the losses would be easier to swallow. But that fact that we’ve battled so hard to be here and it ends like this, it stings.”
    Instead, BA finished the season 8-4, would finish second in their region at 3-3 and be a favorite over a Trinity Sharpsburg team that had driven over three hours before 11 a.m. just to play in Statesboro.
    Unfortunately for BA, the early morning drive didn’t phase Trinity Sharpsburg — or at least their pitcher Hannah Long. The senior pitcher owned the two-game series, holding the BA offense completely off balance.
    “We ran into a pitcher that we couldn’t hit,” Chambers said. “When you can pitch the same hot pitcher for two games you’ll have problems.”
    Between the two games, Long pitched 14 innings and held the BA lineup to a collective .098 batting average and .148 on base percentage. She tallied 18 strikeouts and just three walks with just one run allowed, which was unearned. It was simply a dominating performance a young BA team couldn’t hang with.
    “She had a lot more velocity than a lot of the pitchers we faced this season,” Chambers said. “She changed speed and locations a lot, and had pinpoint accuracy most of the day.”
    The lone run BA scored off Long came in the bottom of the sixth inning of game one. The score was 0-0, with Long locked in a pitchers duel with Baylee Howard. The freshman had allowed two hits through six innings in what had to be the best stretch of work for her all season.
    With one out and no one on base, junior Koree Jacobs smacked a 1-1 pitch to left field to finally break up the no-hitter by Long. Jacobs would advance to second on a passed ball in the next at-bat, which was followed two pitches later by a bunt from Mattie Wynn Hendrix.
    Hendrix’s bunt rolled right to Long on the mound, but her throw over to first went past the bag and allowed Jacobs to roll home and Hendrix to advance to second. BA was in business in front of packed bleachers filled with kids who had gotten out of class just to see the team play.
    “We were so excited,” Jacobs said. “Everyone in the stands was too.”
    Hall set the next two batters down quickly, but BA was three outs away from taking game one. Howard came back out looking to cap off the best start of her career, but ran into some timely hitting by Trinity early in the frame.
    Trinity singled in their first four at-bats, the latter two bringing around three runs. In just six pitches, BA’s sails had been punctured and all the wind carrying them was gone. An error followed by back-to-back fielder’s choices and a double-steal rung up the count 5-1, leaving BA in a deep hole with just three outs to make up the deficit.
    “I think we got too big for our britches in that last inning,” said senior MiKay Sands. “We thought it was over. But it wasn’t.”
    BA started off hot in the bottom of the seventh, with Sands reaching base on an error and Regan Ellis drawing a seven pitch walk to put two runners on with no outs. Alas, Long set down the next three batters to end the game.
    “We had come so far, and this team wasn’t as good as us” Sands said. “Our defense played good today but our bats just couldn’t keep up.”
    The second game wasn’t nearly as close. Trinity Sharpsburg scored runs in the first, third and fifth innings, while Long held the BA offense at bay for most of the game. The closest BA came to putting a dent in the game was in the top of the third while Trinity was up 1-0.
    Jacobs and Hendrix, similar to game one, both reached base to put runners on with no outs for Abby Newton, who was BA’s most reliable hitter all season. Newton hit a hard grounder to second base, and appeared to beat the throw, but was called out.
    The call brought Chambers out of his spot next to third base while the crowd voiced their displeasure. The call stood firm, and Long set down the next two batters in order to end the threat.
    From that moment on, BA never had more than four plate appearances in an inning. Long’s ability to mix her pitches, stay ahead in the count and keep BA off the plate never gave the Gators a chance to recover and give Howard some run support.
    “We’ve struggled hitting outside pitchers all year,” Jacobs said. “That’s where she stayed on us.”
    Howard pitched two solid games in her own right, throwing 192 pitches with 75 percent of them being strikes. Only five of her runs were earned, and only surrendered one walk with five strikeouts.
    On offense, three of BA’s five hits came from Jacobs in the nine-hole — who also scored the only run of the game. Madeline Cowart and Hendrix scored the other hits,
    “I changed the way I hit today,” Jacobs said. “I changed my stance so my shoulder’s didn’t open up so much and I think it paid off.”