JEFFERSON has clinched a state tournament berth, but first, some unfinished business.
The Dragons (16-14) will play for the 8-AA title Thursday at Union County as they seek their first region banner since 2008. Click here for photos.
“First of all, we would really like to win a region title,” Jefferson coach Melissa Mullis said. “That would be our first goal.”
The winner will receive the no. 1 seed in the state tournament. The runner-up gets the no. 2 seed. Either way, Jefferson receives home field advantage through the fist two rounds of state.
“I don’t think we could have a better set-up,” Mullis said.
These teams know each other well with this being the fourth matchup this season between the schools. Union County has taken two of the first three. All have been close.
The teams played an Aug. 28 game on Union County’s mountainous home turf in Blairsville — the site of this Thursday’s title game. The Dragons lost 3-2.
Jefferson had to play that game after a two-hour bus ride. This time, the Dragons will depart early, spend the day in Blairsville and acclimate themselves.
“We’re hoping to put ourselves in a better position,” Mullis said.
The coach expects another nail-biter, one in which the smallest hit or error may loom large.
“It’s going to be a fast-paced game,” Mullis said. “It’s going to be a well-played game. It’s going to come down to someone making an error, someone getting a hit or someone missing a signal.”
Regardless of how Thursday’s matchup goes, Jefferson is going back to the state tournament for the first time since 2008. The Dragons made sure of that by sweeping Social Circle Saturday in the second round of the Region 8-AA tournament with a pair of shutouts. The Dragons won the opener 8-0. It took game two 7-0 to clinch a trip to state.
“They did a great job,” Mullis said. “It was a lot of fun. They came out aggressively … I’m hoping for the same intensity on Thursday.”
Jefferson has won 12 of its last 16 games, which bodes will for the Dragons heading into the championship.
“I believe we’re peaking at the right time,” Mullis said.
Morgan McKinney threw a two-hit shutout in game one Saturday, striking out six.
Offensively, Jefferson took a 3-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back. The Dragons added an insurance run in the second inning and four more in the fourth to blow the game open.
Meagan Faulkner led Jefferson at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a double, three RBIs and two runs. Ashley Boyd was 2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBIs.
McKinney also had a hit and RBI. Others chipping in offensively were Lindsey Miles (2-for-2, two runs), Emily Dufty (1-for-2), Cason Anderson (1-for-3) and Savannah Snapp (1-for-3).
In the second game, Boyd went 2-for-3 with a double and two more RBIs. Erin Jackson enjoyed a 3-for-4 game with an RBI. Miles also drove home a run and went 1-for-3. Others with hits were Miles (1-for-3), Dufty (1-for-4), Faulkner (1-for-4, run), Emily Holman (1-for-1, run), Cason Anderson (1-for-4, run) and Snapp (3-for-4, double, run).
Jefferson scored a pair of runs in the second inning, added a score each in the fourth and fifth innings and plated three more in the sixth inning to put the game away.
McKinney and Holman combined for a two-hit shutout. McKinney earned the win and Holman was credited with the save. McKinney struck out six batters and Holman fanned one.
McKinney ended up throwing 10 innings Saturday and surrendering just two hits, continuing a dominant stretch for the Dragon ace.
“She did an excellent job,” Mullis said.
Now, the Dragons need just one more win to bring home their first trophy in four years. While the state tournament looms large later this month, Jefferson is locked in on an opportunity to become a champion Thursday.
“I feel like we’re ready … There’s no reason we can’t do it,” Mullis said.