When your ace pitcher is Maliah Lee, it doesn’t matter what the playoff seeding is or where the games are being played. That was the case Tuesday (Oct. 12) when No. 4 seed Jackson County opened the AAAAA State Playoffs at No. 1 seed North Springs.
The Panthers swept the Spartans to pull off the upset. Lee pitched a five-inning perfect game to lead Jackson County to a 12-0 win in game one. She stayed in the circle for game two and pitched a two-hitter as the Panthers won 6-1.
Across both games, Lee threw 28 strikeouts and didn’t have a three-ball count until the fifth inning of game two. The at-bat with the first three-ball count ended with a strikeout. The junior finally showed weakness in the sixth inning when she walked three straight batters, but the Spartans failed to bring any of them home.
Lee was just as prolific at the plate, hitting a triple in game one and a home run in game two.
JACKSON COUNTY 12, NORTH SPRINGS 0
On offense in game one, Jackson County (13-11, 9-9 Region 8-AAAAA) did all of its damage in the third and fifth innings. But that was a lot of damage; six runs in each inning.
Whitney Hulsey broke a scoreless tie in the third inning with a lion drive to left field. Blayne Dowdie and Kylen Hewell scored to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead.
Raeghan Thompson singled and Marlee Grounds walked to load the bases for Maegan Brownlee. The sophomore came through with a hard ground ball which brought home two runs. Jackson County led 4-0 with two outs. Madelyn Losquadro brought home one run on an infield single and Brownlee scored on a wild pitch to extend the lead to 6-0.
Maliah Lee, in the midst of a perfect game, started the fifth inning with a triple. Sierra Townley took her place at third base but soon scored when Grounds singled on a shallow pop fly. Grounds stole second, cruised to third on a sacrifice bunt by Brownlee, and scored on a wild pitch. Jackson County led 8-0.
Hewell drove the Panthers’ ninth run home with a ground ball up the middle, Losquadro scored. An error allowed Dowdie to follow her home. Peri Foster extended Jackson County’s lead to 12-0 with a line drive to left field. Hewell and Hulsey scored.
JACKSON COUNTY 6, NORTH SPRINGS 1
Maliah Lee’s perfect afternoon ended when North Springs opened game two with a home run. She responded by retiring the next eight batters and shutting out the Spartans the rest of the way.
Jackson County not only took the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, but it also blew the game open with five runs. Raeghan Thompson sparked the rally with a leadoff double before stealing third base on a wild pitch. Lee brought her home with a sacrifice fly. The game was tied 1-1.
Grounds singled and stole second before running home on Lola Clark’s grounder into right field. The Panthers were finally ahead 2-1. Clark stole second and third, then scored on Blayne Dowdie’s triple. Kylen Hewell brought Dowdie home with a single up the middle and then she scored on Whitney Hulsey’s fly ball to deep left field. Jackson County led 5-1 after four innings. Lee hit a homer in the sixth inning to extend the lead to 6-1.
REGION 8-AAAAA ADVANCES
Jackson County’s round one upset meant all four teams from Region 8-AAAA advanced to the second round of the AAAAA State Playoffs.
No. 1 Loganville swept No. 4 Villa Ricca; No. 2 Walnut Grove swept No. 3 Chapel Hill; No. 3 Eastside swept No. 2 Lithia Springs.
Jackson County has a chance to reach Columbus for the first time since 2017. Jackson County travels to Starr’s Mill (Fayetville) for the second round of the AAAAA State Playoffs. Starr’s Mill is the No. 3 seed from Region 2-AAAAA.