A regular-season and region schedule that fully tested them and a favorable draw in the bracket were out well for the Apalachee softball team Monday, Oct. 19.
The Wildcats scored early and often and pounded Southwest DeKalb on the road in the first round of the GHSA Class 5A playoffs, 16-0 in five innings the first game of a doubleheader, and 14-0 in four innings in the second game to clinch a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Wildcats (24-6) will now travel to Calhoun on Thursday, Oct. 22, for a second-round series that will begin with a doubleheader at 5 p.m. An if-necessary third game would be played at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23. The Wildcats are now two wins away from a second straight Elite Eight appearance under second-year head coach Allan Bailey and would face the winner of the Union Grove-Northgate Sweet Sixteen series beginning Tuesday, Oct. 27, for the right to advance to the double-elimination Final Four tournament in Columbus next weekend.
After a scoreless top of the first inning in Game 1 on Monday, Apalachee, the No. 3 seed out of Region 8, jumped on the Panthers for eight runs in the second — including a three-run home run by Tiyara Wingfield and a grand slam by Destiny Sexton. They exploded for eight more runs in the fifth and rode the arm of senior pitcher Emily Hodnett, who tossed a five-inning no-hitter and struck out 10 batters. Sexton and Kensley Kraus had three hits apiece, Wingfield had two hits and four RBIs, Hodnett had two hits and three RBIs, and Allyssa Willer and Katelyn Flanders both had two hits each.
Apalachee picked up where it left off against the Panthers, the No. 2 seed out of Region 5, in the second game with six runs in the first, six in the second and two in the third. Willer went 2-for-3 with a homer, a walk and two RBIs, while Flanders also went deep and three four shutout innings of three-hit ball in the circle with one walk and six strikeouts. Morgan Reynolds finished 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI; Sexton went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs driven in; and Sam Woody had two hits and an RBI.
“It was a big day for us,” Bailey said. “We hit three rockets right at them in the first inning of that first game, and then we came back and hit it over the fence and put it in the gaps. They didn’t make a lot of mistakes in the field, but our lineup just produced a lot of hard-hit balls and hit with a lot of confidence. Four homers in one day is pretty atypical of our team, but it was an offensive explosion. And that’s great to see at this point in the year. We feel like we’re peaking at the right time and were able to showcase that.
“Going down the schedule and looking at everybody played during the regular season, a majority of those non-region teams turned out to be No. 1 seeds in their respective classes, and our region was very tough, so we knew it would pay dividends once we got to this point.”
And Bailey is hoping that gauntlet of a regular-season schedule will continue to pay off as the Wildcats prepare for their second-round series with the Yellow Jackets, the Region 7 champions, who will enter play at 21-8 on the year. Bailey said Calhoun, a perennial playoff team that jumped up two classifications this season, has a lineup that features “a couple of big-time hitters,” including senior catcher Lyndi Rae Davis, who is committed to Georgia.
The Wildcats will hope to counter the Yellow Jackets’ offensive power with Hodnett, the Georgia State commit who got off to a sizzling start, had a couple of tough outings in the middle of the season and has since turned it back on again. Hodnett is now 17-4 on the year with a 1.32 ERA and 0.83 WHIP and has fanned 221 hitters in 122 innings of work. Flanders (7-1, 2.33 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 38 strikeouts in 42 innings) gives the Wildcats a strong second option.
“It’s now how you start; it’s how you finish. And with the natural grind of the season that takes place, we’ve made sure to try to keep Emily’s arm fresh for the postseason, and the whole pitching staff got a lot of great work in during the back half our region schedule,” Bailey said. “I feel confident that Emily’s hitting her stride again at this point and we like our pitching matchup against this team.
“Calhoun is historically a strong program. With the type of softball they’ve played against, compared to our region, they haven’t really had struggle for anything or grind through some wins like we have. So I think we’re prepared and that we can match up against anybody.”
WBHS SWEPT BY CARROLLTON
In other local action Monday, Winder-Barrow saw its season come to a close as the Bulldoggs were swept at Carrollton in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
The Trojans (16-10-1), the No. 2 seed from Region 5, scored three runs in the first and three runs in the second innings of Game 1 and held on for a 9-5 win, then busted out for eight runs in the top of the first inning in Game 2 en route to a 10-1, five-inning victory.
Kendal Miller went 2-for-3 with a homer and drove in three runs to lead the Bulldoggs (10-15), the No. 3 seed from Region 8, in Game 1, while Carlee Schotter went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI, Alyssa Bond went 3-for-4, Ashlyn Christy went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Dayton Power went 2-for-4 with a double.
The Bulldoggs were limited to just three hits in their Game 2 loss — one each by Miller, Rachel Harwell and Christy. Power had an RBI groundout in the bottom of the fifth.