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Lady Gators' run comes to an end

    Stratford Academy rode the arm of Sloan Sibley, the bats of Morgan Long, Carmen Russett, Lexi Rouse and Caroline Avant and the defense of Andi Shilling to sweep Bulloch Academy in the second round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs Thursday.
    The third-ranked Eaglettes nipped the fourth-ranked Lady Gators 2-0 in the first game and 6-0 in the second game. Stratford (21-6) advances to the league's Final Four tournament Saturday in Dublin. Bulloch Academy, the Region 4-AAA champions, ends its season at 18-4.
    "Their experience showed today," said BA head coach Chandler Dennard. "They started six seniors and three juniors who have been in this situation before. We had a great crowd that gave us a lot of support and made a lot of noise. But, when you are the two-time defending state champions like Stratford is and you don't graduate a soul, you tend to be pretty confident and play loose. Our inexperience showed in that aspect."
    Sibley was the winning pitcher for both games. In the 14-inning stretch, she allowed 12 hits, had 13 strikeouts and walked one batter.
    Game One was a nailbitter as Stratford took a 1-0 lead in the opening inning and fended off Bulloch Academy advances with good pitching from Sibley and good defense, especially from third baseman Shilling. Sibley allowed just three hits.
    With one out in the first inning, Shilling walked, Long, who went 2-for-3, singled to left and Julie Ann Bradley followed her with a single to left to load the bases. Rouse lofted a sacrifice fly to right field to score Shilling but Bradley was thrown out at second by BA's Mary Margaret Reeves to end the inning.
    After the rocky start, BA starter Madelyn Vickery did a remarkable job settling down and keeping the Stratford batters off balance with her change-up. Vickery scattered seven hits, had one strikeout and walked two batters.
      The Lady Gator defense also rose to the occasion as outfielders Reeves, Page Spence and Haley Burke got a workout, making diving catches and running down SA fly balls. Third baseman Ashley Burke also made some impressive stops and putouts.
    "It was a great game," said Dennard. "We just came out on the wrong end of it. We got great pitching from Madelyn, who did a good job keeping them off balance. We played good defense. That's been our strengths all year long. But you have got to be able to score to win."
    Bulloch had a great opportunity in the fourth. Reeves started the inning by beating out an infield hit. With one out, Ashley Burke walked to put runners on first and second. But Taylor Collins sinking liner in left field was caught on the run by Macy Meeks and she alertly threw the ball to second base to double off Burke.
    Lauren Dennard had a two-out hit in the fifth but the Lady Gators couldn't capitalize. Spence led off the sixth with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Reeves. But Shilling put out the BA fire with two straight put-outs.
    In the sixth, the Eaglettes make the score 2-0. Rouse blasted a double in the left-center field gap. Meeks singled to center to plate Rouse.
    There was more offense in Game Two as the teams combined for 21 hits; 13 for Stratford and eight for Bulloch. Collins and Haley Burke had two hits each for the Lady Gators. Russett was 3-for-3 for Stratford and both Avant and Rouse had two.
    BA starter Dennard was a change of pace from Vickery but her velocity was something that the Eaglettes seemed more accustomed to as they connected with more balls. Likewise, the Lady Gators had gotten their timing down on Sibley's pitching.
    The Lady Gators threatened in the top of the first when, with two outs, Ashley Burke had a single to left and Collins legged out an infield single by diving to the bag. But a strikeout ended the inning.
    Bulloch came close again in the third. Reeves singled but was caught trying to steal second base. Spence singled to left and took second on a passed ball. But Ashley Burke was thrown out at first and Spence was tagged out trying to advance to third to end the inning.
    "We just couldn't catch a break," said Dennard. "All of our hits were spread out. We couldn't string anything together. They made some great defensive plays to keep us off the board."
    Stratford scored two runs in the third on hits from Avant and Long, a Shilling sacrifice bunt and a BA error. Long's single scored Avant and Avant raced home when Rouse purposefully got into a rundown between first and second.
    In the fifth, the Eaglettes added three more runs on two hits and two BA errors to take a 5-0 lead. Stratford added another run in the sixth.