BROOKLET — 17 innings, five hours and a 20 minute delay are what it took to send Southeast Bulloch to the 3A elite eight in a Wednesday afternoon doubleheader.
SEB had played in many doubleheaders this season, but never did one go into extra innings, let alone both games. For many of the players and coaches, it was the best games they had ever played in.
“I literally have no vocabulary right now,” said centerfielder Emma Britt. “I get to go play softball for state and I get to miss school. What’s better than that?”
The aforementioned delay came in the top of the eighth inning of game two and it wasn’t because of mother nature. In GHSA softball, the “international tiebreaker rule” goes into effect for extra innings.
The rule states the last batter out from the previous inning will stand in a second base to start the new inning. This is to try and speed up play and finish games quicker. In this case of SEB versus Union County, it only made game two take longer.
SEB head coach Aimee Civalier sent out Emily Barnard to stand at second to start the eighth inning of game two, who was the last runner out -- not batter out.
Not having anything clarified, it was Mallory Hardy who should have been at second. After the umpires had a 20-minute phone conference with GHSA officials, Barnard was ruled out and SEB started the inning with one out and no runners in a 2-2 ballgame.
“It’s my bad for not checking for the umpire,” Civalier said. “But the umpire never double-checked with me on my runner. I should have clarified, but I couldn’t make the switch because it was the international tiebreaker rule.”
However, the break may have played to SEB’s benefit. Madison Fields, five days removed from the emergency room due to an unknown allergic reaction, had pitched a combined 15 innings and got a quick break that may just have given her the last ounce of juice she needed to finish the game.
“Back-to-back, it’s the longest I’ve ever pitched,” Fields said. “I’ve gone a couple games a day with rest, but nothing like this. I probably could have pitched either way.”
After SEB went down in the top of the eighth, Fields came back out for her 16th inning of work. In just eight pitches, she struck out the first two batters she faced and got the third to pop out to the mound.
“I just had to keep preaching confidence to myself,” Fields said. “I can’t get all worked up. I had to trust my defense and keep telling myself ‘I got this.’”
The following inning didn’t start out well for SEB, as their runner on second was called out trying to run to third on a fielders choice. SEB would go from a runner in scoring position with no outs to a runner on first with one out.
However the tides turned in a hurry. In the following at-bats Brylee Ritchee and Madison Grams both reached base to load the infield with the top of the order due up. On a 1-2 pitch, Britt hit a hard ground ball to second base giving just enough time for Cameron Gillis to beat the ensuing throw home.
Now up 3-2, Emily Barnard, Kailin McDuffie and Mallory Hardy would reach base in the next three of four at-bats to push across three more runs and make it a 6-2 game going into the bottom of the ninth.
“Coach asked me if I wanted to go back out for the ninth,” Fields said. “I looked at her like ‘is that even a question?’”
Now it was up to Fields, who was working on 246 pitches going back game one, to close out Union County for good. After getting the first out, Lydia Arrowood hit a double to right field to score the runner at second to cut the lead to 6-3.
Fields settled down, getting the next batter to pop out. But now with the runners tagged up to second and third, the tying run was at the plate with two runners in scoring position.
The first pitch from Fields was fouled off, then threw strike two looking and strike three swinging to send her team to Columbus for the first time in her career.
“All I could think is ‘oh my gosh we’re going to Columbus,’” Fields said. “We’re ring chasing now.”
In all, Fields threw 17 innings and 259 total pitches -- 63 percent of them for strikes. She allowed 16 hits, 10 runs, only eight earned, six walks and struck out 18 batters. Fields had been excellent all season for SEB, but it was in their biggest games to date that she decided to shine the brightest.
“That was a gutsy performance,” Civalier said. “She wanted to finish those games and she just fought pitch after pitch.”
If that nail-biter wasn’t enough, SEB had just finished an eight-inning game one that saw seven lead changes. Up 4-1 in the top of the fifth with two outs, Union County strung together six runs off four hits, three walks and an error by SEB to go up 7-4. It was an uncharacteristically bad inning for Fields, but it never wavered SEB’s spirits.
“I finally realized we can’t stay up for just one inning,” Britt said. “You have to string together more than one. We’re a comeback team, we’ve always been one.”
SEB would come back in the bottom of the fifth to load the bases with one out. Ritchee, Grams and Britt would each single to drive in three more runs and tie the game at 7-7, where the score would stand going into extra innings.
With two outs in the top of the eighth and a runner at third, Kendra Tanner hit what should have been a routine pop-up to third base -- but a mix up between shortstop and third base saw the ball bounce out of their gloves and into foul territory allowing the runner to score and put Union County up 8-7.
Once again SEB would have to claw back into the game, this time in the bottom of the eighth. Britt started off the inning with a single, followed by Barnard hitting into a fielder’s choice where she was called safe allowing the runner to score and tie the game 8-8.
Following another fielder’s choice from Blair Chapman, Mallory Hardy would step up with the bases loaded and no outs. On the first pitch she saw, Hardy smacked a hard ground ball to shortstop — giving Britt enough time to cross home plate and walk off for a game one win, 9-8.
“Even though we were down, the girls never acted like they were out,” Civalier said. “We battled back, we hit awesome, honestly I started crying when we won because I can’t believe how far we’ve come.”
Standing out offensively for SEB was the freshman McDuffie. She finished the day 5-9 with two RBI and three runs scored. Britt also was a major contributor, going 4-10 with two runs scores and three RBI.
“McDuffie doesn’t act like a freshman,” Civalier said. “She played big for us today and I’m proud of her.”
SEB (21-8) now advances to the 3A elite eight, which will be held in Columbus on Oct. 27 and will go through the 29. SEB would get the winners of Pierce County (18-9) and Morgan County (23-9) in the first round, then play double elimination from there. It’s the sixth time in Civalier’s 12 year tenure SEB’s advanced to the elite eight.