With some of the best teams from around the state in competition, Bulloch Academy walked away with a third place finish in the Gold Bracket of this weekend’s Bulloch Bash hosted at Bulloch Academy and Georgia Southern University.
After shelling First Presbyterian 15-0 Friday night, the Lady Gators (6-4-1) advanced to the top bracket in Saturday’s final competition.
Bulloch was in contention with a pair of Class AAA rivals for the tournament championship, but a pair of late rallies by Westfield and Tattnall Square sent the Gators to two losses before the they were rained out of their final game of the tournament against Pinewood Christian.
“We know we’re in for a battle when we play these teams,” said Bulloch coach Chandler Dennard. “As a team, we’re striving to win a region and play for championships, so we want to prove ourselves against the best every chance we get.”
While the Gators came up short against Westfield and Tattnall — ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively, in the Georgia Independent School Association Class-AAA poll — their final game leading up to the Bulloch Bash proved their claim as a contender as Bulloch defeated top-ranked Stratford Academy Thursday in Statesboro.
“The biggest thing is the experience we gain out of this,” said Dennard. “With our game against Stratford and then this tournament, we’re having to play these top teams back-to-back-to-back. To have success like that, we need to be consistent with our level of play.”
Westfield 7, Bulloch Academy 3
Dating back to the 2010 state playoffs, Saturday’s matchup marked Bulloch’s sixth meeting with Westfield in their last 11 games. Much like the postseason series —which ended with the Lady Hornets prevailing in a hard-fought third game —Westfield continued to have just a slight edge over the Gators.
The Hornets jumped in front in the bottom of the first when Bulloch starting pitcher Madlyne Vickery surrendered a walk to Brooke Connor and a single to Callie Hammerle before Westfield starter Christine Campbell helped her cause with a two-run double to the wall in left center.
Westfield threatened again in the second and third, but Vickery was able to hang tough and keep her team in the game.
“That’s a big improvement from last year,” said Dennard. “I’m proud of how she handled herself. She didn’t make things worse by getting wild with her pitches and she got some big outs to pitch out of jams.”
Bulloch pulled ahead in the top of the third with a two-out rally. Marianna Peebles started things with a single before Page Spence ripped a single of her own into right field. Taylor Collins drew a walk to load the bases, and Haley Burke promptly unloaded them with a three-run double to put the Gators up 3-2.
Bulloch carried that lead into the fifth before Westfield exploded for five runs on a walk, followed by four straight hits to start the inning.
Campbell struck again to tie the game with an RBI single before Sydnee Barker put the Hornets up for good with a two-run single to left.
Westfield pushed two more runners across the plate before the time limit was exceeded and the game brought to an end.
In other tournament action, defending Class-AA state champion Brentwood topped the Silver Bracket while current Class-A title holder Briarwood finished first in the Bronze Bracket.
Tattnall Square 7, Bulloch Academy 1
Bulloch’s second game of the afternoon was a similar heartbreaker as the Gators went pitch for pitch with the Lady Trojans before seeing things slip away late.
The Gators got off to a fast start in the top of the first inning as Spence lined a one-out triple to the fence in right center.
Collins then fouled out to third, but Tattnall catcher Jade Moncrief chased after the pop up and Spence took advantage of home plate being left unguarded, racing home to give Bulloch a 1-0 lead.
Bulloch starting pitcher Lauren Dennard breezed through the first two innings as Tattnall made solid contact, but was shut down by the stellar Gator defense.
The Trojans broke through to tie the game in the third as Kelsey Jackson led off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, then came around to score when another sacrifice bunt by Liz Wainwright was thrown into right field.
Tattnall took the lead the next inning when Moncrief (3-for-3) led off with a single and advanced on another sacrifice before Kirsten Albright (2-for-3, 5 RBI) drove her in with a double.
The game was blown open in the bottom of the sixth as a single, an infield hit and an error loaded the bases for Albright, who then smashed a grand slam over the left field wall for a 6-1 advantage. The Trojans pushed one more insurance run through before shutting down Bulloch in the seventh for the win.
“Today’s games were a lot closer than the scoreboard showed,” said Chandler Dennard. “We were in contention in both of those games. I told our girls that right now, we’re the best team in the state for four innings. We just have to finish these games out.”
Tuesday, Bulloch travels to Lyons for a game against former Class-AA rival Robert Toombs Academy.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.