The North Forsyth softball team knew it was in for a tough fight in its second-round playoff series on Tuesday against North Gwinnett, and more specifically against Bulldogs pitcher Chandler Dennis. The thought of facing that challenge probably didn’t make things easier on the Raiders, either.
“If we just kept in our heads that we can do it and we can put a bat on the ball, then we probably could have gotten more hits,” Raiders sophomore Hailey Mize said. “But I think it was just in our head that she was just really good.”
North was the highest-scoring team in Region 5-7A play, and the Raiders had scored double-digit runs in three of their last six games entering Tuesday. But those bats were much quieter against Dennis, who held North to just seven hits total as the Bulldogs swept with 6-0 and 2-1 wins.
Raiders head coach Jim Cahill said that Dennis, a Michigan commit, was “probably” the best pitcher North had faced all season, and in the night’s first game, she held the Raiders to just two hits and recorded 14 strikeouts.
That gave the Raiders a practically nonexistent margin for error, which they let slip early. An RBI double and groundout gave North Gwinnett a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and the Bulldogs got three more in the second, with an error letting two of those come across. The Raiders had five errors in the first game, and just one of the six runs Mize surrendered in the circle was earned. North’s best chance to score was in the fourth, when Adaline Nix scored and advanced to third on an error, but Dennis got a strikeout and 5-3 putout to end the inning.
The second game, with Kyleigh Sanders in the circle, was cleaner and quieter for both teams, neither of whom committed an error. The Bulldogs struck first, though, scoring two on an RBI single in the fourth inning, and while Mize’s RBI single to score Abby Martin in the seventh gave the Raiders a chance at a rally with no outs, Dennis got two strikeouts and induced a pop-out to end the series and the Raiders’ season.
“They did good,” Cahill said of the Raiders. “They fought hard like they did all year, they had fun, and they played hard, and that’s all we ask them to do.”
The season certainly had plenty of triumphs for the Raiders, who finished 17-15 and won the region title, but it also required significant resilience.
To get that region title, they had to come back from a 9-0 deficit against South Forsyth in the first game of the championship series. Before the season started, they lost Ashleigh Grace, their catcher and leadoff hitter, to injuries sustained in a golf cart accident. They had lost six games and won just two before region play started. And they were perpetually short on experience, with just four seniors on the roster.
The results were good, but work it took to get there made the payoff even more special – that’s what will stick in Mize’s mind, at least, about this particular team.
“The drive and the hard work that we all put in to this team – it was amazing,” Mize said. “All the girls were always there, and we worked hard through it all.”