LILBURN — Maddie Todd nearly missed her senior year.
After suffering a torn labrum before season started, Todd had to decide whether to get season-ending surgery to repair her shoulder. Lambert coach Brooks Youngblood estimates he was about 90 percent sure that he would need to find a new right fielder.
But Todd considered all of her options and chose to undergo stem cell therapy for her shoulder. It's kept Todd in the lineup, and on Wednesday, it allowed Todd to deliver an unforgettable moment, launching a grand slam against Parkview in Game 1 of the Longhorns' doubleheader.
Lambert won 9-0 and 5-0 to reach next week's eight-team, double-elimination tournament in Columbus.
"Since my freshman year, we've been talking about going to Columbus," Todd said. "I wouldn't want to do it with anybody else except for them. Our connection is amazing. It's the best connected team I've been on, and I'm not saying we're the most talented team, but it's our connection. It's our connection that's getting us through everything."
Courtney Sauer gets final out to send Lambert to Columbus
Lambert made a couple of strong impressions in Game 1. On offense, Hannah Cornetto scored Courtney Sauer with an RBI single to give the Longhorns an early 1-0 lead. Then on defense, after Parkview leadoff hitter Neriah Lee drew a walk to open the bottom of the first, catcher Sydney Chung caught Lee trying to steal second base.
Shortstop Katelyn Boyette picked the ball, applied the tag and hustled across to diamond to celebrate with Chung.
Lambert finally broke the game open with a five-run fourth inning.
Cornetto ripped a single down the third-base line, then Ashley Fitts lofted a single over the third baseman's head to give the Longhorns runners on first and second with nobody out. After a couple of flyouts, Chung singled home Cornetto, then Boyette singled to load the bases.
That's when the lineup turned over and Todd ripped the first pitch she saw into the trees behind the left-center field fence.
"I was trying to just focus on staying calm and picking out my pitch," Todd said. "I guess the first pitch was my pitch, so I just drove it and just swung like I normally do."
Meanwhile, Hannah Cole limited Parkview to just two baserunners — both walks — over the first four innings before a one-out bunt single by Kaily Collett in the fifth inning gave the Panthers their first hit. Cole induced a couple of popups to strand Collett, then added to the lead two innings later with a home run of her own.
Chung delivered a two-run single five batters later to give Lambert a 9-0 lead.
Chung went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in Game 1, then added two more hits in Game 2.
"That started right before our fall break, I think it was," Youngblood said. "Around fall break I think [Chung] got in the lineup again, because she got hurt in that game at Buford. So, we just kind of eased her back into it. She was just catching and she was being DP'd for. At that point, some of them were doing a decent job, so I wasn't in a rush. Ever since we put her back in the lineup ... she's probably hitting over .400. She's seeing the ball real well right now."
Cole collected the win in Game 1, pitching seven shutout innings and striking out nine batters.
The Longhorns received another tremendous performance in the circle in Game 2, when Sauer pitched a complete-game two-hitter, striking out nine and walking one.
Sauer struck out the side in the third inning and fanned seven of the first 10 batters she faced.
Sauer's drop ball baffled the Panthers all night and induced 10 ground balls.
"If you were to stand back there tonight, that thing's moving that much," Youngblood said. "That thing is dropping off so hard. [Parkview's pitcher] is a drop-ball pitcher too, but it's a different world with her drop ball."
Todd doubled to open the bottom of the first inning, and after Sauer singled her over, they both scored on separate errors to give Lambert a 2-0 lead.
Todd singled home pinch-runner Kyia Wing in the second inning, then an RBI double from Cornetto and an RBI groundout by Fitts made it a 5-0 game heading into the sixth inning.
Lauren Brister broke up the no-hitter with two outs in the sixth, but Sauer didn't allow another baserunner and recorded the final out of the game when she fielded Collett's ground ball and threw to Cole at first to send the Longhorns to Columbus.
The win also marks 25 straight victories for Lambert, a streak that began Aug. 26.
"People have been asking me, and it's hard to conceptualize," Youngblood said. "It could be the littlest thing, but obviously, there's a lot of breaks that go your way to get 25 in a row. There's a lot of sacrificing egos and coming together. There's a lot of things that have to happen for 25 in a row. It's hard to just put it together. It's fantastic."
Lambert [28-4] will face Hillgrove at 5 p.m. Oct. 28 in the first round of the tournament with the winner facing the East Coweta/Cherokee winner.
"I came into this game and I didn't have the feeling that it was going to be our last game. I had a good feeling that we were going to win. I can't put going to Columbus into words. This is what we've wanted to do. I think we can win it. I think anybody going down there can win it."