Softball team punches ticket to State Championship

  • The Lady Indians celebrate their sweep of the Crisp County Lady Cougars in the Sweet 16 round of the GHSA State Softball Playoffs on Oct. 16.
    The Lady Indians celebrate their sweep of the Crisp County Lady Cougars in the Sweet 16 round of the GHSA State Softball Playoffs on Oct. 16.
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The LCHS varsity softball team received tremendous performances from its pitching staff and clutch hitting from its lineup in order to sweep the Crisp County Lady Cougars in a best-of-three series on the road during the Sweet 16 round of the GHSA State Softball Playoffs last Wednesday, Oct. 16.
The series sweep punched the Lady Indians’ ticket to Columbus, Ga., the site of the 2019 GHSA Class AAA State Softball Championship tournament.
The state championship tournament appearance marks the first for the Lady Indians since LCHS head softball coach Joseph Jones took over the program six seasons ago.
“We have made the playoffs in five of the six years since I have been at LCHS,” Jones said. “I think they made it three out of the four years before I was here. There has been a tradition of making it to the playoffs for the Lady Indians Softball program. This group of seniors have been to the playoffs since they were in 9th grade. Last year, we finally won a playoff game. I think last year really helped us get where we are today. Last year, when we hit the field, we expected to win. That carried over to this year and our girls have played in some big games in the last four years. I feel like, mentally, that prepared them for the last two series we have had.”
The Lady Indians needed solid pitching from starters Natalie Robinson and Lauren English in order to take down the Lady Cougars during the Sweet 16 round.
Robinson, who started game one, gave the Lady Indians 4 1/3 solid innings of work inside the circle versus Crisp County and English put in 9 2/3 innings on the mound to earn wins in both game one and game two. The stellar performances by both Robinson and English, who both showcased their talent on the mound throughout the 2019 regular season for Lumpkin, were a large part of why the Lady Indians were able to down the Lady Cougars and advance to the state championship tournament.
“Our pitching has been great all season,” Jones said. “Both girls had great outings on Wednesday. Natalie [Robinson] hit a wall after getting us off to a great start and played an excellent first base after that. Lauren [English] also had a great outing. She made some huge pitches in big situations in game one and two. Both girls threw great and our defense made some great plays behind them.  Without pitching and defense we wouldn’t be booking hotel rooms for this week.”
Robinson did get the Lady Indians off to a strong start in game one of the best-of-three series against the Lady Cougars in the Sweet 16 round of the State Playoffs. The senior retired seven of the first nine Crisp County batters she faced, including two strikeouts.
While Robinson got off to a solid start on the mound, the Lady Indians’ lineup gave Lumpkin an early 2-0 advantage in the top of the second inning.
Freshman catcher Natalie Shubert got the inning started with a leadoff single to right field. Sophomore Haley Sparks came in as a courtesy runner for Shubert and senior Hannah Pulley quickly moved Sparks to second with a bunt single that caught the Crisp County defense by surprise. With runners at first and second, Alyssa Pulley ripped a hard hit ball to first base. Instead of getting the easy out at first, the Crisp County first baseman opted to try to throw out the lead runner at third. However, Sparks easily made it to third before the ball and the Lady Indians had the bases loaded with no outs.
With the bases full of Lady Indians, sophomore Brooke Temples blasted a pitch into centerfield for a RBI single that plated Sparks and gave Lumpkin a 1-0 lead. After a strike out by senior Anna Kate Wilson, senior Brighton Harder put in a patient plate appearance and drew a bases loaded walk to record a RBI and extend the Lady Indians’ lead to 2-0.
The Lady Cougars were able to get out of the inning without any further damage when Crisp County starting pitcher Olivia Bridges induced two consecutive fly outs to left field.
The Lady Indians added another run in the top of the third inning when Wilson blasted a two-out, RBI single up the middle with the bases loaded, upping Lumpkin’s advantage to 3-0.
Crisp County began to chip away at the Lady Indians’ lead in the bottom of the third inning. The Lady Cougars benefitted from a defensive miscue by first baseman Hannah Pulley to start the inning. Crisp County’s leadoff batter belted a grounder to the mound that Robinson quickly picked up and threw to first base, but Hannah Pulley was unable to hold on to the throw, allowing the Lady Cougar to reach safely. Robinson struck out the second batter she faced in the inning on five pitches to record the first out, but the next Crisp County batter connected for a single to centerfield. The lead runner rounded second and then third, as the Lady Indians’ defense struggled to get the ball back into the infield. The relay throw hit Shubert’s glove at home plate too late and the Lady Cougars cut the Lumpkin lead to 2-1. With a runner standing at third base, Robinson delivered a pitch that was grounded to third base. English threw out the runner at first for the second out of the inning, but the runner at third took off for home. It appeared that Shubert was able to get the tag on the runner at the plate after receiving a bullet from Hannah Pulley at first, but the umpire called the Lady Cougar safe. The controversial run cut the Lady Indians’ lead to 3-2.
Robinson was able to get out of the inning without allowing another run to keep Lumpkin in the lead.
The score remained the same until the bottom of the fourth when Crisp County hit a two-out, RBI infield single to third with the bases loaded. The run evened the score at 3-3.
The Lady Cougars threatened to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning after loading the bases with one out. However, English relieved Robinson on the mound and quickly recorded the last two outs of the inning to keep the score tied at 3-3.
The Lady Indians broke the deadlock between the two teams in the top of the sixth when senior shortstop Evee Dornhecker smashed a two-run triple down the right field line. Dornhecker’s clutch hit gave Lumpkin a 5-3 advantage.
Dornhecker’s triple would prove to be the difference in the game, as English held the Lady Cougars scoreless for the final two innings. In the end, the Lady Indians emerged victorious in game one by a final score of 5-3 to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Game two started off with a bang for Lumpkin when English crushed a two-run home run over the wall in left field in the bottom of the first inning. English’s monster shot put the Lady Indians ahead 2-0.
On the mound, English cruised through the first two innings before Crisp County was able to cut the lead to 2-1 in the top of the third with a RBI infield single to third base.
However, Lumpkin added another run to the scoreboard in the bottom half of the inning when Robinson belted a RBI double to right field. Robinson’s hit gave the Lady Indians an important insurance run and a 3-1 advantage.
A bases loaded walk in the top of the fifth allowed the Lady Cougars to cut the Lumpkin lead to 3-2, but Robinson would come up big again in the bottom of the fifth with a RBI single that extended the Lady Indians’ lead to 4-2.
English sealed the deal for Lumpkin with two more scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh. English pitched a complete game in the win, allowing two runs on seven hits and four walks while striking out three.
The game two win allowed the Lady Indians to sweep Crisp County and punched Lumpkin’s ticket to the GHSA Class AAA State Championship tournament.
The sweep was highlighted by the sensational pitching performances of Robinson and English and the clutch hitting of the Lady Indians’ lineup.
Temples led the charge for the Lady Indians, going 6-of-8 during the two-game stretch.
“Brooke [Temples] has proven she can swing the bat before this season started,” Jones said. “She was fighting for a spot in the lineup coming into the season, but was injured during the late summer. She had to sit due to injury for about the first eight games. She has hit the ball well since she came back, but so have the other girls in the lineup. Brooke had a huge hit against Marist to tie the game up and put the winning run on third. At Crisp, I think she was 6-of-8 in the two games. Brooke has come up big for us the last couple of weeks.”
The Lady Indians’ lineup, from top to bottom, produced when the team needed it the most, including Dornhecker’s big triple in game one, English’s two-run shot in game two and Robinson’s two RBI hits late in game two.
“That is the beauty of having a team like we do, you never know who it may be this week,” Jones said. “We have many players who can get hot at the plate, like Brooke did the last few weeks, and really boost our team in Columbus.”
The Lady Indians are now one of the eight remaining teams, including Franklin County, Ringgold, SE Bulloch, Calhoun, Lovett, Jefferson and East Hall, that will vie for a State Championship title in Columbus this week.
“The eight that are left are all very good teams,” Jones said. “We are going to have to continue to play great defense and continue to pitch well. We have shown that we can swing the bat well at times. We went about three weeks where we were on fire at the plate. The team hit a small lull for a few weeks at the plate, we still hit, but just not to our capability. I feel like over the last two series our bats all the way through the line-up have continued to get better. Hopefully, we can continue that next week. We have the bats to do it, the girls just have to stay confident when they get in the box.”
Jones knows that the Lady Indians will need to continue to play their game if they are to succeed at the tournament.
“We have to continue to play our game and not worry about who we are playing,” Jones said. “I want the girls to bring great energy, be a great teammate and play with grit. If they do that, we will have a great time in Columbus. I am very proud of this group. I am also very happy for this group of seniors. I wish some of the seniors that I have had the past few years could have experienced this moment and I hope they realize they were a huge part of getting this program where it is today.”
The Lady Indians softball team will head to Columbus, Ga. to take part in the GHSA Class AAA State Championship tournament tonight, Oct. 23. Jones is hoping that Lumpkin fans will pack the downtown square around 5 p.m. in order to give the Lady Indians a sendoff that will let them know that their fans are behind them.
The LCHS varsity softball team will play its first game of the tournament on Thursday, Oct. 24, versus defending State Champion Franklin County. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.
If Lumpkin wins the game, the Lady Indians will play at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 25, versus the winner of the Ringgold/SE Bulloch game. If Lumpkin loses, the Lady Indians will get the chance to fight their way back through the consolation bracket on Friday, Oct. 25, at 2 p.m.