MARIETTA — Kell wasted no time finding the gaps in Forsyth Central’s defense, and even a few that shouldn’t have been there.
The Lady Longhorns scored seven runs in the bottom of the first inning behind five hits and three Central errors to earn a 9-1 victory in five innings in the Region 7-AAAAA tournament final on Saturday at Al Bishop Park. The loss dropped Central to a No. 4 seed entering the Class 5A state tournament.
"Half the runs they created with good at-bats," Central head coach Bill Richardson said. "The other half were mistakes we made, maybe just a little slow to the ball, one hit a footprint here, just goofy stuff like that. [Kell is] a very good team, and good teams, good things happen for them.
"In my mind, when the region [schedule finished] before this tournament, we were going to have to play our you-know-whats off to get to where we are and we did that, and we had maybe the inevitable let-down. Most of that comes back to me because I said yesterday, ‘We’re relaxed, there’s nothing to be pressing on. We need to get a little more urgency back."
The Lady Bulldogs (15-16) will be making their first appearance in the state tournament since 2009. They went a combined 9-45 during the 2009 and 2010 seasons but bounced back this season with a .500 record going into Saturday’s game.
"We’re in a position we haven’t been in a couple of years," Richardson said. "We’re not going to cry about being a four seed because it beats the heck out of being a 10 seed.
"We are maybe a year ahead of where we thought we’d be. Some of that is maybe a very quick maturing process of sophomores in particular, and I have to give a lot of credit to Taylor Alton and Olivia Brasher and Jessica Dunn for senior leadership.
"They were senior leaders last year when they were juniors and we had no seniors."
Central jumped ahead 1-0 on Kell courtesy of an RBI double by Alton (2-for-3, 2B, RBI) in the top of the first, following a leadoff walk by Lexi Bump.
Lady Bulldogs pitcher Caroline Thomas was close to getting out of the bottom of the inning unscathed, retiring two batters after the Lady Longhorns got their first two hitters on base due to a Central error and a single. Instead, the next six Kell batters reached base and pushed seven runs across the plate.
The Lady Longhorns tacked on a run in the third and fourth innings and invoked the mercy rule after getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fifth.
Central has lost its last two games after racking up five wins in a row — the last giving Richardson his 150th career victory and clinching Central’s playoff spot.
"It means a lot this year because of the kids that are involved with it," Richardson said. "It feels pretty special when I have that game ball that they all signed and it says ‘150’ on it. It makes me feel good that these particular kids are the ones I got to appreciate it with."
The Lady Bulldogs face Dunwoody today in a doubleheader (2:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.) at the Wildcats’ field. A third game, if necessary, would be played Thursday.
"We have a very good chance of moving to the second round," Richardson said.
"We have played in what we feel like is a strong region and we’ve played pretty well. We beat the number two seed, we beat the number three seed, we beat the number five seed, and we like that."