A long season filled with key injuries and illness at inopportune times came to a disappointing end for the Winder-Barrow softball team Tuesday, Oct. 8, as the Bulldoggs were swept handily at River Ridge in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAAAA playoffs.

River Ridge left-handed pitcher Sydney Osada dominated the Bulldoggs, allowing just one hit and three walks over two games as the Knights won 8-0 in five innings in game 1 and took the second game 12-0 in five to advance to the Sweet Sixteen to take on Glynn Academy in a best-of-three series that was set to begin Tuesday, Oct. 15.

“She pretty much had her way with us,” Winder-Barrow coach Lee Smoak said of Osada, who struck out 10 Bulldoggs in game 1, allowing only a Rachel Harwell single in the third inning to go along with three walks. She went perfect in the second game, retiring all 15 batters she faced to go along with three more strikeouts.

The Knights (19-11 entering the Sweet Sixteen), the No. 2 seed from Region 6, got on the board with five runs in the bottom of the first in game 1 and added three more in the fifth to end the contest early on a run rule. They continued to pour it on in game 2 with a run in the first, four in the third, three in the fourth and four in the fifth to complete the sweep.

“Our region’s pretty top-heavy with Dacula and Apalachee, but that one River Ridge is in is very competitive from top to bottom,” said Smoak, whose team finished 9-17 and was the No. 3 seed out of Region 8 in his third season at the helm. “Considering the youth on our team and the injuries and sickness we had to deal with, I was pretty proud of the girls winning three of their final four region games to finish third.”

The Bulldoggs’ pitching staff was hit particularly hard by the injury bug. The team was without senior ace Jasmine Roberts down the stretch after she was lost to a torn ACL. Sophomore Alisah Lopez was also limited over the final month of the season with a growth plate issue in her hip, Smoak said. Lopez pitched the second game of the River Ridge series, while the Bulldoggs turned to freshman Dayton Power in game 1.

The Bulldoggs were also without a key hitter in the middle of the lineup, junior Carlee Schotter, for a significant stretch due to an illness, and talented freshman shortstop Abby Polk missed a handful of games with a hamstring strain.

Those absences throughout the year negated what Smoak felt like would be considerable depth entering the year.

“We really didn’t have many games where I felt like we had our best nine or 10 available, and it just handcuffed us,” he said. “Some of those girls I thought would be coming off the bench in certain spots wound up having to start a good bit. Offensively, I was pretty pleased with what we were able to do, but we had some bad defensive games and our pitching definitely took a dip.”

Smoak said he hopes the team can develop more consistency with pitching and defense during the offseason, and a large part of that, he said, will be the youth continuing to develop. The Bulldoggs started three freshmen and two sophomores for most of the season.

“They’ve all been given goals for things to improve on in the offseason, and I hope they will,” Smoak said.

But Winder-Barrow will also say goodbye to four seniors — Roberts, role players Bailey Boswell and Alexis Valdes, and, the biggest of all, senior first baseman Bekah Freeman, one of the region’s top hitters over the last few years.

“She does what she does,” Smoak said of Freeman. "She had another great year. She was nominated for region player of the year and has been nominated for some all-state recognition. She just really had an incredible season and career, off the charts really.”

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