The Raider dugout was ready to explode in jubilation Thursday. Just one more out, and Marist would be done. But the home squad rallied for four runs with two outs to claim game two. That meant Madison County had to ride back somberly to Danielsville, then pack up everything and return Friday for one more showdown.

But if Marist felt they had the series momentum heading into Friday, well, the Raiders didn’t get the memo.

Raider pitcher Emma Strickland summed up the Raider attitude.

“We were ready to come back with a vengeance,” she said after Madison County advanced.

Strickland was a true workhorse at Marist this week, pitching 21 innings in two days, as the Red Raiders took two of three from the War Eagles and advanced to the Elite 8.

Madison County grabbed the momentum in the first at bat in game three when Sam Minish slammed a solo shot out of the park. And Madison County commanded the deciding game, 6-1. The team spent time in right field after the game, with smiles, cheers, hugs and an ice bath for head coach Ken Morgan. The victory party had been delayed by a day, but perhaps it was even sweeter after the adversity.

“Coming back today after not having a great bus ride home after losing that one that’s tough, but credit our girls, we came out and Sam gets the leadoff homerun and that relaxed us a little bit to go ahead and score a few then and get a little cushion there, and we added a run or two here and there,” said Morgan, just a moment before his victory dousing. “And that’s big. We talked all year about you have to finish teams off, especially good teams. You can’t let them hang around.”

Senior Ella Chancey said the team was really eager to battle after the Thursday-night setback.

“After last night and losing that tough game, we were just like we have to use that to fuel us going into the game today,” she said. “And we really did that and it helped us.”

Chancey praised her teammate and friend who lasted three complete games in the circle in two days.

“It’s crazy, the fact that she pitched three games and won tonight after all that,” said Chancey of Strickland. “We just try to get behind her and tell her, ‘You can do it,’ and keep motivating her. And she did really well.”

Morgan said Strickland showed real grit.

“I call her a Bulldog out there,” said Morgan. “She’s a heck of a pitcher, has been the last three or four years, just getting the ball and going. She has a special right arm. She battles — as good as anybody in the state in our opinion. She doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to pitch 14 innings in a day and turn around and do that again. It’s a testament to her and her character and conditioning and being big in the moment and getting it done for us.”

Strickland admitted after the game that there were some aches after the 14-inning outing Thursday. But that didn’t stop her from taking the circle and shutting down a tough Marist squad with the season on the line.

“Honestly, I was sore today,” she said. “Today was a lot harder than yesterday, but I’d do anything for these girls. They keep me going.”

Strickland was assisted by strong fielding and timely hitting from her teammates. Morgan said his seniors really stepped up against Marist.

“Lexi (Jordan) had a big two games,” said Morgan. “She was on base all night, hitting the ball hard, set the tempo in the box by being calm and under control and not letting anything phase her, playing like a senior. Gracie (Nix) behind the plate provides so much in the way she sets up the pitches and does the little things back there. She does her job day in, day out, no fuss, no fanfare. She’s just solid behind the plate, one of the best receivers that I’ve ever coached, getting the strike calls and working the umpire and doing the things she needs to do back there. She’s always been special for us.”

Madison County now has to travel to West Laurens Tuesday to face a 30-3 squad. The winner will travel to Columbus Friday for the Final Four tournament. Raider players and coaches like their chances this week.

“We’re very excited about our chances,” said Morgan. “They (West Laurens) are very good. They are a good, solid team. We played them the last couple of years. We know a little about them. They know a little about us. It’s going to be a good matchup. They’re playing great. And we’ll have to have our best game to go take care of business with them.”

Strickland and Chancey know their team is special.

“We all bond really well together,” said Strickland. ‘We’ve kind of all grown up together.”

Chancey echoed that sentiment about team unity.

“A lot of us have been together for several years now,” she said. “We’re so close and everyone has the passion and they want to win and make it to Columbus. It’s super exciting, a little nerve racking. It’s exciting to be able to get the chance to go back there.”

MCHS 5, MARIST 0

Madison County opened its series with Strickland shutting down Marist, allowing just three hits and two walks, while striking out six over seven innings.

Madison County scored one run in the first, fourth and sixth innings, adding two more insurance runs in the seventh inning. The Raiders were 12-of-33 from the plate with five players collecting two hits: Sam Minish, Skylar Minish, Jordan, Chancey and Claire Strickland. Sam Minish had a triple and a double. Skylar Minish and Claire Strickland Both doubled. Chancey, Reagan Fulcher and Sam Minish each stole a base.

MARIST 10, MCHS 7

Marist’s bats suddenly came alive in game two and the War Eagles jumped on Madison County with four runs in the first inning. But the Raiders responded to the opening flurry with a bigger punch, scoring two runs in the first inning on a triple by Lexi Jordan and five in the second, with RBIs from Riley Ernst, Jordan and Chancey, who homered, to pull ahead 7-4 after two innings.

Marist added two runs in the fourth inning to cut the lead to 7-6. The War Eagles faced elimination with runner on third with two outs in the top of the seventh, but they rallied for four runs to pull ahead 10-7. And Madison County failed to score in the bottom of the inning.

Marist struggled mightily against Emma Strickland in games one and three, but the War Eagles had 12 hits in the second game. Meanwhile, Madison County had nine hits in the game, including three from Jordan, who tripled and doubled and drove home three, and two from Chancey, who homered and drove home two. Others with hits included Ernst, who doubled; Sam Minish, who stole a base, Emma Strickland and Lily Crane.

MCHS 6, MARIST 1

Emma Strickland went the distance in the circle to get the win, allowing just three hits and two walks, while fanning six batters. She was also 4-for-4 at the plate with an RBI.

Sam Minish rocked a shot out of the park to start the game and Madison County put up three first-inning runs. The Raiders went 12-for-31 at the plate Friday, compared to 3-for-25 for Marist, which scored its lone run in the first inning.

The game included some stellar glove work for the Raiders, including some great grabs in the outfield that helped keep the War Eagles off the bases.

Minish was 2-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs. Lily Crane was 2-for-3 with an RBI. Riley Smith was 2-for-3 with a run scored and a stolen base. Skylar Minish was 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Jordan also had a hit. Jorga Huntsinger stole two bases and scored a run.

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