PLAY AT THE PLATE

Jackson County catcher Whitney Hulsey tags a runner at home plate Thursday (Oct. 10) during the Panthers' 12-8 Game 3 loss to Calhoun in the first round of the state tournament. With the season-ending loss, the Panthers finished the year at 16-11-1. 

The Jackson County softball team fell behind early in a winner-take-all Game 3 and couldn’t catch up in a season-ending loss.

The Panthers trailed 6-0 after two innings and fell to Calhoun 12-8 Thursday (Oct. 10) in the rubber game of their first-round playoff series with the Yellow Jackets.

"When you give good teams extra runs they are going to make it hurt," coach Kristen Croteau said. "We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.

Madison Miller went 4-for-5 with an RBI in the loss, while Sara Beth Allen went 3-for-5, hitting a three-run homer in her final high school at-bat. Peri Foster went 3-for-5 as well, driving home two runs.

Others with multi-hit games were Jordan Price (2-for-5), Abby Harrell (2-for-4, RBI) and Abigail Allen (2-for-3).

The Panthers, who finished the year at 16-11-1, slugged out 16 hits in the loss. Calhoun finished with 16 hits as well in the slugfest.

A two-run home run from Calhoun’s Molly Banks in the bottom of the first inning sparked the Yellow Jackets early. Kayleigh Warren then homered in the bottom of the second, part of a four-run inning that pushed Calhoun out to a 6-0 lead.

Errors in the top of the third brought home the Panthers’ first two scores, cutting the lead to 6-2.

But Calhoun got those runs back in the bottom half of the inning with RBIs from Carlie Henderson and Lyndi Rae Davis, who recorded a four-hit night.

Jackson County trimmed the lead to 8-4 in the top of the fifth with RBI singles from Harrell and Miller.

The teams then traded runs with Davis singling home a run for Calhoun in the bottom of the fifth, and Foster driving home a run in the top of the sixth for the Panthers. Foster’s RBI cut the Yellow Jackets’ lead to 9-5, but the Panthers would come no closer than that. Calhoun built a 12-5 lead heading into the top of the seventh inning.

The Panthers, however, made some noise late.

Sara Beth Allen, who has committed to play at Georgia Tech next year, smacked a three-run home run to left field with Miller and Abigail Allen both on base, cutting Calhoun’s lead to 12-8.

Croteau said she was happy for Sara Beth Allen to enjoy that moment in her final high school at-bat. 

"She is a great athlete, person and great teammate," she said. "She is humble, never letting the moment get to her and she is driven to win. I am excited for her next chapter at Georgia Tech, she will only get better. Her last at bat summed up her career. She left her mark.

The Panthers threatened further by putting two runners on, but Yellow Jacket pitcher Maggie McBrayer ended the game with a strikeout.

Jackson County, which won the 8-AAA regular season title in its first year under Croteau, is set to return all but four players next year. Twelve of the 18 members of this year’s roster were underclassmen.

"I am happy that we won the regular season," Croteau said. "It shows what potential this team has. I think we have a lot of great girls returning. I look forward to the underclassmen taking the next step next year. We will still be very young on paper, but the experience the girls had this year will prove important as we move forward next year.

PANTHERS, YELLOW JACKETS SPLIT ON WEDNESDAY (OCT. 9)

Jackson County held off a final-inning rally from Calhoun for a 12-10 win Wednesday (Oct. 9) on the road, forcing the decisive Game 3 in its first-round state playoff series with the Yellow Jackets.

Sparked by an eight-run first inning, the Panthers (playing as the home team in Game 2) took a 12-6 lead into the top of the seventh inning.

But the Yellow Jackets struck for four runs and brought the go-ahead run to the plate before Panther pitcher Sara Beth Allen forced a groundout to end the game.

Abigail Allen led Jackson County offensively, going 3-for-5 with a double and two RBIs. Sara Beth Allen went 2-for-2 with a double and two RBIs while Whitney Hulsey went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs. Others with multi-hit games were Peri Foster (2-for-5, double) and Haley Harpis (2-for-3, double, RBI).

The Panthers pounded out 16 hits, and Calhoun committed six errors.

Jackson County trailed 2-0 after the top of the first inning in Game 2, but brought 13 batters to the plate in the bottom half of the inning and strung together seven hits en route to scoring eight runs. Sara Beth Allen had a two-run double, while Hulsey, Harpis, Abby Harrell and Madison Miller followed with RBI singles. Abigail Allen added an RBI double.

After Calhoun cut the lead to 8-4, Jordan Price had an RBI single in the bottom of the second inning. Two more runs scored that inning off a Yellow Jacket error.

Calhoun got two runs back in the top of the third inning, and Jackson County plated its final run in the bottom of the sixth inning with an RBI single from Husley.

Calhoun opened the night with a 5-2 win in Game 1, jumping out to a 5-0 lead after four innings.

Harpis hit a solo home run to get the Panthers on the board in the top of the fifth inning, followed by a solo home run by Sara Beth Allen in the top of the sixth inning.

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