Area Sports...

October 25, 2000


Lady Tigers Take Fourth In State
Finishing fourth in the state is quite an accomplishment, but the Commerce Lady Tigers must be forgiven if they wonder "what if" after their fourth place finish in the Class A state softball tournament.
They were the only team to beat the state champions ­ cross-county rival Jefferson. And but for the luck of the draw, who knows.
"Knowing we beat them three times, regardless of them winning the state, makes a difference to us. We beat the state champions three times. That's pretty good," says assistant coach Kerri Drew.
But if the Lady Tigers had the Lady Dragons' number this year, Calvary Baptist seems to have a knack for knocking off the Lady Tigers.
Calvary knocked Commerce out of the 1999 state Class A tournament, finishing second; the Lady Tigers won third. And Calvary handed Commerce both of its losses in the 2000 state tournament last weekend.
"We didn't get a real easy draw right from the beginning," said Drew. Commerce lost 8-4 Thursday night to Calvary, beat Mount Zion 6-5 early Friday morning, defeated Miller County 6-4 and then dropped a 10-2 decision to Calvary Baptist Friday night.
"I think if we had beaten them the first game, it would have been a different story," Drew said.
Still, it's not all that bad a story as it turned out. In the early part of the season, it didn't appear that the Lady Tigers could make it to the state for the third year in a row.
"We knew the abilities we had returning," Drew recounted. "We had three freshmen in the starting lineup who had never played with the other girls. In the first couple of weeks, you'd never have thought we'd go as far as we did."
The Lady Tigers jelled as a team and regained their form from '99. They won the region. They won the sectional. Then they ran into Calvary.
Calvary plated one runner in the first, and the Lady Tigers tied it in the bottom half of the inning. They repeated that in the third, then Commerce went up 4-2 in the fourth, Calvary added three in the fifth, then iced the game with one run in the sixth and two more in the seventh.
Crystal Rainwater had two hits in four at-bats to lead the offense.
On Friday, Commerce managed a 6-5 win in spite of not hitting very well, Drew said. Still, the Lady Tigers jumped out in front with four runs in the first inning. Mount Zion added one in the bottom of the inning, and both teams added single runs in the fourth. Commerce scored once in the sixth, Mt. Zion scored two in the sixth and one in the seventh to make it 6-5.
Charlene Gaither, Ashley Evans and Shemika Reed had two hits apiece.
At 4:00 p.m., the Lady Tigers were visitors against Miller County. They opened the game with two quick runs, then surrendered one in the bottom of the first. Miller County took a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning.
Lauren Ladd led off the seventh with a single. Loren Flint singled and Charlene Gaither reached first on a fielder's choice, with Flint nailed at third. Ashley Evans reached on a fielder's choice, loading the bases.
Stephanie Rainwater's single scored two, then her sister, Crystal Rainwater singled in a run as Commerce took a 6-4 lead.
"Then we went out and played some incredible defense," Drew stated.
Miller County got two on with no out, but the next batter hit a grounder to pitcher Elizabeth Roller, who forced the runner at third. The next batter flied out, and the following batter hit safely to left field, only to have the runner forced at third.
"Shemika Reed and Loren Flint played great defense," Drew noted.
"They just hit the ball," Drew said of the final game.
Calvary scored six in the first inning, and the Tigers could never gain any momentum. Commerce scored two in the bottom of the first, and that was it for the offense.
"We had some good defensive plays; it would have been worse without our defense," Drew said.
"The story for the whole tournament is that we didn't hit the ball. Nobody really hit as well as they can or should have."
Drew said the Tigers were a "little disappointed," but overall, pleased with the year, in which they finished 25-10. Not to mention reaching the semifinals in the state and beating cross-county rival Jefferson three times.

Leopards take fifth in state tourney after 4-10 start
Remember the old adage: "it's not how you start, it's how you finish?"
Clearly, the Banks County slow-pitch softball team is familiar with the phrase.
Off to a 4-10 start this season, the Leopards battled back to capture fifth place in the Class AA softball tournament in Columbus this past weekend. The squad ended the season with a 16-14 record.
"I'm tickled to have a team that come from where they were and finish as strong as they did," said Leopard head coach Mike Gordon. "They fought every game. And they won the hearts of a lot of people down there (in Columbus)."
Banks County won one game and lost two in the tournament.
The Leopards downed Macon County 10-9 in a Thursday thriller, then lost to eventual state champion Irwin County 15-3 Friday, before being knocked out of the tournament by Lumpkin County, 10-9, in an 11-inning Friday night heartbreaker.
Thursday's game provided dramatics that won't be forgotten in Homer anytime soon.
Banks County entered its last at-bat down 9-5.
And with two outs in the seventh inning, the Leopards still trailed by four.
But the Leopard despair soon turned to euphoria as Megan Williams, who led her squad with three hits in the game, came to the plate with the bases loaded, smashing a grand slam to knot the score at nine. Her homer was followed by consecutive hits by Ashley Reece, Ashley Freeman and Danielle Couch, who drove in the winning run.
"It was unbelievable," said Gordon, whose squad had seven hits in the final inning. "The whole place was set on fire. We had a lot of positive comments about the spirit of the team."
Reece and Freeman had two hits apiece and Regina Veal was the winning pitcher.
Class AA state champion Irwin County, which finished the tournament without a loss, simply had too much firepower for the Leopards Friday.
"They hit it everywhere," said Gordon.
Reece led Banks County with two hits, while Freeman added a hit.
Again Banks County entered its final at-bat with a big deficit and once again, the Leopards fought back.
Taffy Caruth provided the heroics this time, driving in two runs on a two-out hit to tie the score at eight.
Neither team managed a run until the top of the eleventh inning, when Banks County took the lead on a hit by Williams and a double by Freeman.
But Lumpkin County battled back with two runs on two outs in the bottom of the inning, knocking the Leopards out of the tournament.
"Everybody in the complex was watching that game," said Gordon, who estimated that "about 500" people surrounded the fences to watch the Friday night dramatics.

Lady Dragons claim softball crown
The Lady Dragons of Jefferson High School overcame a series of late-season setbacks last week to win the school's first state slow-pitch softball title. In fact, the crown is the first for Jefferson in any girls' sport.
In the tournament's title game, Jefferson rallied with three runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to defeat Bryan County, 8-7. Left fielder Staci Childress sparked the rally with a two-run triple that tied the game with one out, and freshman Kenyotta Beasley slapped a single to right field to drive Childress in with the winning run. The two late-inning heroes shared similar sentiments when asked about their contributions to the win.
"It feels really good," the soft-spoken Beasley said.
Childress was a bit more animated.
"It feels dadgum good," the junior said emphatically.
Though Beasley and Childress will long be remembered for their game-winning efforts, the state title was easily a team effort. Every player on the team who logged an at-bat recorded a hit in the tournament, and all but three scored runs. Nine of the Lady Dragons' 14 players drove in runs.
Plagued by long-ball flyouts in the 1999 tournament, the 2000 Lady Dragons were able to win largely by banging out ground-ball hits. Of the team's 48 hits in the four games, 40 were singles.
The title game win over Bryan County set Jefferson's final season record at 31-3, a school record for wins and the most wins in 2000 by any team in any classification. All three of Jefferson's losses came at the hands of rival Commerce during the final week before sectional play. The Lady Tigers finished fourth at Columbus, beating Mt. Zion and Miller County, and losing twice to Calvary Baptist.
The Lady Dragons started the tournament with a 3-0 blanking of Treutlen Thursday. A 7-2 win Friday over Miller County guaranteed the team no worse than fourth.
In Saturday morning's winner's bracket final, Jefferson struggled both at the plate and in the field, but an early stake of seven runs in the third inning was enough to hold off Bryan County, 7-5. Bryan dropped to the loser's bracket final, defeating Calvary for the second time in the tournament, and the title matchup was set.
Jefferson fell behind by five runs early, and it looked as though a second game would be necessary to detemine the state champion. But DeMaris Gurley's girls fired back, getting hit after hit late in the game to edge back into contention. Down by a run in the bottom of the seventh, the Lady Dragons were able to push Sunny Bush around to tie and force extra innings.
The battle went back and forth in the eighth and ninth, but Bryan broke through with a huge effort to take a 7-5 lead in the 10th.
Childress' triple drove in Molly Cleveland and Michelle Boring to tie with one out. That spurred the Bryan coaches to pull in their outfielders and walk the bases loaded, since a deep fly ball would end the game. The strategy seemed to play right into the Lady Dragons' hands, with the big bat of Annie Goza due up. Goza had already launched a towering homer in the earlier game against Bryan County.
Goza pounced on the ball, hitting it solidly but lining out right at the Bryan County third baseman for out number two. The stage was then set for Beasley's game-winning hit.
"This really hasn't sunk in yet," an emotional Gurley said afterward. "We never got down. Even when we were behind so much, I could tell from what the girls were saying that they still believed they could win."
Gurley pointed to strong defensive performances by a number of players, including outfielders Childress, Bush, Ashley Evans and Lara Bridges. Evans had three catches over her head in game three alone, and Childress came up with a run-saving grab in the title game. Bridges threw a runner out at second on a base hit to end an inning in game one.
Pitcher Melinda Floyd was nearly unhittable at times, as she had been for much of the season. In 34 games, Floyd gave up only 26 walks, while striking out 31. Shortstop Lee DuBose capped her sparkling season effort well, committing only one error during the tournament.
The team's freshmen did well also, as Beasley recorded two put-outs at the plate. Taryn Gurley threw a runner out while sitting to help end a big inning.
At the plate, senior Julie Coile came through with a crucial pinch-hit effort in the title game, and Stacey Anderson broke out of a season-long slump with a pair of timely hits in three at-bats. Brooklyne Marlowe added a clutch hit as well.
Childress led the team with six RBIs on seven hits, and Bush hit safely six times. Boring and Coile each had three RBIs. Bridges and Evans each scored four times, and Gurley and Floyd added three apiece.
"It's really great," Gurley said of the team's win. "It took us 20 years, but it was worth it."

Quiet bats deny Lady Panthers
The Jackson County slow-pitch softball team wrapped up its 2000 season last week in the state class AAA tournament in Columbus. The Lady Panthers were eliminated from competition after losing their first two games, 8-0 to Perry and 17-11 to Forsyth Central.
"Everybody down there was good," said head coach Clarke Rainwater. "Going down there, we felt real good about it, so we were kind of disappointed with not at least winning a game. When we started playing, we just didn't hit the ball."
Jackson County scattered five hits over seven innings in their first-round loss, with Brandi Barber the only multi-hit Lady Panther in the game. The top half of Jackson County's order managed only one hit.
Things looked promising early after senior April Cantrell reached third on a first-inning triple, but she was stranded there. Perry picked up four in the third, and the Lady Panthers were not the same from that point on.
"We just seemed to tighten and not play real good ball," Rainwater commented. "We were just flat-out nervous."
Jackson County got behind early in game two, as Forsyth Central picked up five runs in the first inning. The Lady Panthers fought back with two runs, but Forsyth matched them to retain a five-run lead, and stretched it to six going into the fifth inning.
The bats awoke for Jackson County in the fifth, as the team pushed six runs across to tie at 8-8.
"We hit the ball and finally got things going with seven hits in a row," Rainwater said. Carrie Hammond delivered two RBIs in the inning, and Diana Robinson came through with a clutch hit.
"They came right back and hit the ball, too. We had three errors in the bottom of the fifth, and they got six runs. When they came back and scored those six, that was just the end of the road."
The game two loss was a much more even contest, with Forsyth taking the 14-9 win. The Lady Panthers chopped out 16 hits in the game.
West Laurens surprised many tournament watchers by winning the state title after coming into the tournament at 17-10, while the previously unbeaten North Forsyth finished third. 1999 champion Appling County took second.
"Our defense wasn't bad," Rainwater continued. "We just didn't hit anything. You're not going to beat anybody in the state tournament if you don't hit the ball."
Rainwater indicated that Jackson County plans to offer both fast- and slow-pitch softball beginning with the 2001-02 school year, as a result of a Monday night meeting. Whether the school actually fields a fast-pitch team will depend upon the level of interest in the sport.

Madison County topples Wesleyan 28-18 in biggest Raider win in years
Artist Norman Rockwell couldn't have painted a better homecoming picture than the Raiders did in Danielsville Friday night.
Homecoming 2000 will go down as a thing of legend in Raider lore, as Madison County pieced together a masterpiece, topping Class A's seventh-ranked squad, Wesleyan, 28-18 in a win some in Madison County are calling the program's biggest in well over a decade.
Faced with the biggest battle yet of the squad's resurgent season, the contest with then-unbeaten Wesleyan gave Madison County the chance to prove that they were every bit as good as their 7-0 mark indicated-and they did.
Not only did the squad move to 8-0 with the 10-point victory, the homecoming triumph sent a message to those who felt Madison County had coasted to an unbeaten record playing a "soft" schedule of teams.
So many plots and subplots tied into the Raiders' toppling of the Wesleyan squad, a team who outmanned Madison County by 23 players.
There was the tenacious performance of the defense who withstood a second-half surge by the Wolves and came up with several key third stops.
There was the Raider offensive line-guys like Dustin Walker, Robert Geiger, Brandon Hayes, Chris Wiley and freshman Anthony Tilton-blasting open holes against a defense which coach Tom Hybl called the "best-coached defense we've seen" led by Eric Broe, who has already committed to Florida State.
And there was Donny Stamper, who has been "Mr. Reliable" virtually all year long. Stamper made his senior year homecoming a memorable one, piling up 254 yards and finding the end zone four times. And his two fourth-quarter scores won't be soon forgotten by the Raider faithful.
With his team holding on to a four-point lead in the final period of play, the senior running back helped save the Raider win. The first was a 50-yard jaunt to keep the Wolves at arm's length at 21-10. Then with the Raiders up 21-17 late in the contest, Stamper iced the game with a fourth down, 23-yard romp with just under two minutes left.
In the contest, the Raiders relied on the same formula that guided them to their seven other wins during the 2000 campaign-getting ahead early, controlling the ball and the clock and playing timely defense.
Madison County shell-shocked the Wesleyan squad, jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead, and then was able to cling to a slim four-point edge in the third quarter before wearing down the Wolves in the final period to secure the double-digit victory.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County Journal.

MCHS finishes fourth in the state
The sting of the final loss was obvious Friday night in Columbus for Madison County. The Raiders were one win away from a state semifinal appearance when Loganville shut the door on their title hopes.
Still, Raider head coach Doug Kesler said the disappointment of this past weekend shouldn't diminish the accomplishments of his team this year. The 26-11 Raiders finished fourth in the state and claimed the Area 8-AAA championship.
"We went down there with aspirations of winning," said Kesler. "And Friday night, it felt like somebody ripped our hearts out. But in the not too distant future, they (the players) will look back and see that fourth in the state was a big accomplishment for our third year in fast-pitch....I'd rather come in fourth with this group of girls than win the state with any other group."
Madison County played four games in the Thursday-Saturday tournament, winning two and losing two.
The Raiders opened the tournament with a 7-0 win over Savannah Christian Thursday.
Madison County scored one in the bottom of the first inning and three runs in the fourth and six innings.
Heather Jones led the Raiders with two hits and two RBIs. Candace Shubert, Brooke Kesler, Renee Mathews, Sheena Mason, Valerie Norman, Amanda Lewis, Sarah Owen and Lauren Stopcyznski each had a hit.
Lyndsey Barnette picked up the win, allowing just one hit in seven innings, while fanning 12 batters and walking three.
Both teams struggled at the plate, managing just four hits apiece, while both struck out seven times. But Lovett made their hits count, taking advantage of some walks with some timely hitting to capture a 3-0 win Friday afternoon.
Raider pitcher Sheena Mason gave up a couple of walks to load the bases. And a Lovett batter smacked the ball to right field to drive in the first run on the game. Lovett added two more runs in the fourth inning on a two-out, two-run bloop single.
Madison County was led by Mathews, who had two hits. Bates and Owen had one hit apiece.
Mason took the loss, giving up four hits and five walks in seven innings, while striking out seven batters.
Madison County didn't let the loss to Lovett keep them down, roaring back with a 10-0 win over fellow Area 8-AAA competitor Eastside.
Mason bunted in the first Raider run in the top of the first inning. And neither team managed to cross the plate for the next three innings.
But Madison County blew the game open with five runs in the top of the fifth. Mathews drove Owen, who had reached on a bunt single, for the first run of the inning. Bates then ripped a liner off the third baseman's glove to drive home Jones, who reached on an infield hit. Mason then smashed a line shot down the right field line, which got past the right fielder. Mathews and pinch runner Brittney Escoe scored to put the Raiders up 5-0. Norman bunted Mason home for the final run of the inning.
The Raiders added four more insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Bates drove Mathews in with a triple. Mason followed with an RBI hit, accompanied with an error. Rebecca Booker then drove home Mason with a single. Brooke Kesler then drove the ball to right field and the ball again got past the outfielder, allowing the final run to score.
"It was good to see the girls come back after we had just gotten beaten by Lovett," said coach Kesler. "The girls came back against a good team."
Madison County immediately followed the Eastside game with a showdown at 9 p.m. Friday night against Loganville, the eventual state runner-up. Madison County fell behind early and never recovered in a 4-1 loss.
"Loganville is a good team with athletes that give everybody problems," said Kesler. "But we were able to pretty much control those girls. They just happened to put together some hits with their walks. We felt we were just as good as they were."
The only scoring in the game came in the third inning. Loganville scored all of its runs with two outs on two RBI singles and a two-run hit. Two walks and a hit batter aided the rally.
Madison County answered with an RBI single by Mathews in the bottom of the inning, with Jones crossing the plate.
Mason pitched two and two-third innings, giving up four runs on four hits and four walks, while striking out three.
Barnette pitched four and one-third innings in relief, allowing just one hit and no walks, while striking out five.
Friday's loss marked the final game for eight Madison County seniors. They include: Renee Mathews, Heather Jones, Shelley Bates, Sheena Mason, Valerie Norman, Rebecca Booker, Lauren Stopcyznski and Brittney Escoe.
"We lose a big part of our team," said Kesler of next year's outlook. "But we've got girls coming up who will help. We'll be O.K."

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