The Winder-Barrow softball team is spending this week getting in what first-year head coach Jordan Najafi said is some much-needed practice time as the Bulldoggs make their final preparations for the first round of the GHSA Class 6A playoffs next week.
It has been another up-and-down season for Najafi’s squad in terms of wins and losses, but while the 10-13 record may appear modest, the Bulldoggs are feeling confident and believe they have things starting to click as they try to win their first postseason series since 2013, when they advanced to the Class 5A Elite Eight in Columbus.
“I’m just proud of this team for stepping up all year long through all the little tweaks we’ve made and all the nuances involved with COVID, and we feel pretty good about the way we’re playing right now,” said Najafi, whose Bulldoggs finished third in Region 8 behind region champ Buford and Dacula and will travel to face the No. 2 seed from Region 5 in a best-of-three series that will likely begin Monday, Oct. 19, with a doubleheader. That region is holding a seeding tournament this week, so the opponent is not known, though either East Paulding or South Paulding would be the most likely one barring any upsets.
The Bulldoggs will be making their eighth consecutive appearance in the state playoffs and have done it largely with a potent offense that didn’t miss much of a beat despite the graduation of star hitter Rebekah Freeman. Sophomore Dayton Power and seniors Rachel Harwell and Carlee Schotter have set the tone in the first three spots in the batting order, followed in the middle by juniors Kendal Miller and Alyssa Bond and sophomore Marissa Metz. And they’ve gotten a combination of power from sophomore Ashlyn Christy (two hits, a three-run homer and seven RBIs in a 14-4 win over Lanier on Oct. 7) and senior Amber Smith and speed from sophomore Abby Polk, who is hitting .426 out of the No. 9 spot.
“I told them all season long I would put our offense against any other, and they’ve just continued to produce and hit the ball solid up and down the order,” Najafi said, before pivoting to another key difference-maker for the Bulldoggs down the stretch — their improved starting pitching.
The trio of sophomore Alyssa Logston, freshman Rylie Beddingfield and junior Alisah Lopez have made strides with Logston emerging as the No. 1 candidate and Beddingfield providing solid middle relief. Lopez was also strong last week in the 14-4 win over Lanier.
“They’ve all done a pretty good job, especially with some of the strong offenses we have in our region between Buford, Dacula and Habersham Central,” Najafi said. “They started realizing how they can be productive at this level. That helped us as we started playing three and four region games each week, and it’s going to help us in the playoff format next week, knowing we can rely on three girls to give us a chance.”
AHS DOMINATES EASTSIDE
Apalachee scored four runs in the top of the first inning and four more in the third on Tuesday, Oct. 13, and cruised to an easy 10-2 victory in six innings over Eastside in Covington.
Senior Emily Hodnett pitched all six innings in the circle, allowing the two runs on six hits while walking one and striking out 10, and went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs at the plate as the Wildcats moved to 21-5 overall and 11-5 in Region 8-AAAAA play.
Destiny Sexton went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks and an RBI, while Allyssa Willer, Kensley Kraus, Tiyara Wingfield and Allona Norrell all hit safely for the Wildcats.
Apalachee was scheduled to host Clarke Central on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and wrap up their regular season Thursday, Oct. 15, at Walnut Grove. If the Wildcats could be the Gladiators and Warriors (who won the region championship), they would finish as the region’s No. 2 seed. A loss in either game would push them back behind Loganville, which finished 12-6 in region play and beat Apalachee two out of three times during the region schedule.