Unable to find much competition in Region 6-AAAA, Forsyth Central made early reservations to face more formidable foes in the state tournament.
The Lady Bulldogs handed Southwest DeKalb its second region loss in a 9-1 rout Thursday on the Central campus, securing a berth in the Class AAAA North Sectional.
Prior to the loss, the Lady Panthers were the only team still competing with Central (19-6-2 overall, 8-0 Region 6-AAAA) and No. 4-ranked Marist (18-6 overall, 7-0 Region 6-AAAA) for a coveted top-two spot in the region standings.
Now, only Marist stands between the Dawgs and a flawless region record. The two teams will finally square off on the Lady War Eagles’ field Tuesday, but neither the outcome of that game nor the upcoming region tournament can cost Central a spot in the state playoffs.
“In our region, the top two [teams out of the regular season] go to sectionals, so the worst we can be now is two,” Central coach Bill Richardson said after the game.
“We’re very happy about that. That’s a goal that we set.”
Southwest DeKalb gave Central plenty of help Thursday, committing five errors in the game. The Dawgs’ first three runs scored without the need of a hit.
“They are a whole lot better than they showed today,” Richardson said of the Lady Panthers.
Jamie Strickland (2-for-2, RBI, 2 runs) got things started for Central with a walk in the bottom of the second inning. Ginny Prince put down a bunt to move her to second, but a throwing error allowed Strickland to score all the way from first base.
Katie Stanford padded the lead in the third, drawing a walk before scoring off an error on a ball hit by Nicole Shirley. An infield single by Lauren Head later sent Shirley home for a 3-0 lead.
Central pitcher Brittney Head (6 innings, 13 strikeouts, 1 hit, 1 unearned run) had only one bump in the road during another overall strong outing.
In the top of the fourth she surrendered a walk to Jasmin Riley and hit Shannon Baity with a pitch to put the first two runners on with no outs. The pitcher recovered with back-to-back strikeouts to Trenee Nash and Cynamon Bell, but a single by Iman Gayle followed by a wild pitch scored Riley to trim the lead to 3-1.
Brittney Head induced an inning-ending ground out to first from Iman Cabell, leaving the tying runs in scoring position.
And just as quickly as it looked like the Lady Panthers might claw their way back into the game, Central slammed that door shut in the bottom of the frame.
Taylor McDonnell (2-for-4, 2 runs) led off with an infield hit. After another Panthers’ miscue left two on with one out, Lauren Head (2-for-3, 2 RBI) came up with a RBI single to center. Strickland then laced a RBI base hit of her own to left.
“Jamie Strickland is just knocking the heck out of the ball,” Richardson said. “She’s making a huge difference. We’ve steadily moved her up the lineup and she’s doing a good job.”
The inning continued when Prince hit a ground ball that rolled between the legs of the shortstop, allowing both pinch-runner Kayla Richards and Strickland to score. Jessica Anderson then doubled to deep left-center to score Prince and run the lead to 8-1.
McDonnell and Shirley led off the bottom of the sixth with consecutive singles, and McDonnell later scored to invoke the mercy rule when Southwest DeKalb misplayed a ball hit by Brittney Head.
“I’m proud of them. They’ve worked very hard on a lot of different things, not just softball, but the Pink-Out [cancer fundraiser game] and just treating each other the right way,” said Richardson, who credited his assistant coaches and a better demeanor within the team as contributing factors to the success this year.
“We’ve had a little upturn in talent and we dropped down to this [Class] AAAA region, and so it’s ... come together all at once.”
The Lady Bulldogs face Marist Tuesday in a 5 p.m. showdown on the Lady War Eagles’ field