Posted: Thursday, October 25th 2012 at 12:07am
Softball: Lumpkin, Jackson make first trips to Columbus in decade, join mainstay Buford
By Jeff Hart Staff
Buford's Bria Bush will lead the Lady Wolves to their eighth straight Elite 8 appearance Thursday in Columbus
COLUMBUS – Buford did not start its girls fastpitch softball program until 2002 but will be heading to its eighth-straight Elite 8 appearance at the state girls softball playoffs. Meanwhile, it has been a decade since both Lumpkin County and Jackson County advanced to the Elite 8.
Yet, when the 2012 Elite 8 gets under way Thursday, both Jackson County and Lumpkin County will be joining the mainstay Lady Wolves as all three teams vie for state titles.
Jackson County, the Region 8-AAA champion, will take on Chapel Hill, and Buford, the Region 7-AAA champ, will play Jackson in the first round of the Class AAA tournament while Lumpkin County, the No. 3 seed from 8-AAAA, will face South Effingham in the Class AAAA tournament.
All three games are slated to begin at 2:30 p.m.
The Lady Wolves are no strangers to the Elite 8 format, a double-elimination, round-robin format. They won the last five Class AA titles before moving up to Class AAA this season.
The Lady Panthers last made it to Columbus in 2001 and the Lady Indians have not been to the Elite 8 since 2002. Both teams are taking on underdog attitudes as they reacquaint themselves with the three-day, high-pressure tournament.
“We’ve had a good year but we’re also a young team,” Jackson County coach Chessie Laird said. “I think they’re ready for the experience and I told them to enjoy it. But I also didn’t get the sense that they were satisfied with just getting (here). We’re going down there to try and win it.”
Jackson County (21-15-1) has been riding high coming into the Elite 8 with a perfect 4-0 record in the playoffs after sweeps of Cartersville and Fannin County in the first two rounds. The win over Fannin County was particularly sweet for the Lady Panthers after being knocked out of the playoffs last year by the Lady Rebels.
“Last year it came down to the last inning and we didn’t get it done and that left a bitter taste for the girls and they remembered it,” Laird said. “I think that has kind of driven us to finish games this year.”
Jackson County will look to sophomore pitchers Peyton Sorrells and Jessica Baker to both see action but Laird said the starter for the first game will be a game-time decision.
The Lady Indians are similar to Jackson County riding a perfect 4-0 playoff record after sweeping both Alexander and Marist in the opening rounds. Lumpkin coach Jason Osborne said it was an emotional finish last week when they knocked off Marist to advance to Columbus.
“These girls have worked hard for many years and some cried and some jumped up and down for a while. On the ride home they kept saying ‘I can’t believe we’re going to Columbus’,” he said. “I had to keep reminding them that they earned it.”
Senior Ashley Brown has been the leader on and off the field and one of the better players in north Georgia to not have made it to Columbus before now. Brown has a 22-8 record with a 1.73 ERA. She will be joined by fellow senior Courtney Fortner in the circle and Osborne thinks he has two pitchers that can win big games.
“We will probably pitch both of them but the real key is to score runs,” Osborne said. “Everybody at this stage has solid pitching so the teams that can scratch out some runs will win We feel confident no matter who is pitching.”
Osborne said attitude could be a factor for his squad, especially in the first game or two.
Buford (28-3) is looking for an unprecedented sixth straight title, this time in Class AAA. The Lady Wolves have compiled an impressive post-season record going back to the 2004 season. They are 95-24 in the playoffs and 29-8 in games in the Elite 8 in Columbus. Under coach Tony Wolfe, they are a ridiculous 21-2 in Columbus.
Buford is led in the circle by sophomore Bria Bush, who has seen the bulk of activity this season. Fellow sophomore Tessa Daniels, who helped lead them to the state title last season, has recently returned to the circle but has been used sparingly after recovering from a hamstring injury.
If both Buford and Jackson County advance after the opening game, they will play each other in the second game for a spot in the semifinal round.
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