It took just six runs for the Southeast Bulloch softball team to defeat Appling County in two games Friday afternoon to clinch a spot in the GHSA AAA quarterfinals.
The Yellow Jackets used junior pitcher Alana Barnard’s 10 strikeout performance in game one to win 1-0. Soon after, the home team outlasted the Pirates in a 5-4 game to improve to 4-1 in the 2020 playoffs.
“It feels really good,” said SEB head coach Aimee Civalier, whose team returns to the elite eight for the second straight season. “That's a really good Appling team over there with a really good pitcher. Two one run games with high emotions and stress. I’m proud of the girls. 14 innings is a long way to go for everyone and they battled all the way to the end.”
In game one, Barnard came out and had a perfect game through the first two innings with three strikeouts. On offense, the Yellow Jackets were getting on base, but the Pirates’ pitching kept the game even.
Appling’s first hit came in the top of the third, but a sacrifice bunt and fly ball to right field ended the frame.
The lone run of the game came in the bottom of the fifth.
With two outs, Kelsey McDuffie was hit by a pitch to get on base. Shylah Thames hit a single to move McDuffie over.
Then Barnard came up and hit an RBI single down the left field line to bring McDuffie home.
After a quick sixth inning, Barnard returned to the circle to throw three strikeouts to win the game.
“It helps because I know I can contribute on offense and defense,” Barnard said. “It was hard, but I knew what was at stake. I knew I had to push through.”
Playing as the visiting team, SEB came out swinging in game two.
McDuffie was hit by a pitch to start the game, Thames hit an RBI double, Barnard had another hit, Addison Hood running for Barnard stole second, Megan Lee hit a sacrifice fly to score Thames, Gracie Burgin was hit by a pitch, stole second and a fly ball ended the frame.
Appling responded with a run and then Barnard delivered two strikeouts.
Both pitchers continued to work clean games until the top of the fourth inning when Thames hit a two-run blast over the centerfield wall to extend SEB’s lead to 4-1.
“I knew that I had to help my team out and do what had to be done to get to the elite eight,” Thames said of hitting a postseason home run.
The Yellow Jackets continued to pile on the runs with Burgin hitting an RBI double in the top of the 5th. Momentum shifted to the Pirates with a two-run fifth inning to make it a 5-3 game.
Barnard added two more strikeouts to her day in the bottom of the sixth to leave just three outs between the Jackets and the elite eight.
“I knew they couldn’t hit much outside,” Barnard said. “So I used a lot of that to my knowledge.”
With a game in hand and a two-run lead, Barnard stepped in the circle.
Appling had a hit. Then Barnard threw a strikeout. Another hit.
Two runners on base, Appling hit a sacrifice fly to make it a one-run game, but a groundout at first ended the game, 5-4.
“For both teams, seeing the same pitcher over and over again is an advantage to the batters because they look for certain things,” Civalier said. “We expected both teams to hit better in the second game. We got one more run than they did.”
Now, the Yellow Jackets will have to wait for a Saturday game three between Rockmart and Sandy Creek to see who they’ll face in the elite eight.
If Sandy Creek wins game three, SEB will head to Tyrone, Georgia Tuesday for game one and two. If it’s Rockmart, the Yellow Jackets will host the Fighting Yellow Jackets Tuesday.
Until then, SEB will prepare to extend their season and earn a trip to the state tournament in Columbus.
“We have heart. We know what it’s like to win and know what it’s like to not win,” Barnard said. “I want to keep going and win state. It’s going to be hard, but going to be so worth it.”