ON TO COLUMBUS

The Jefferson softball team, shown here in recent action, made the long trek to Brantley County and earned a sweep with 13-0 and 7-2 wins Wednesday in the Sweet 16. The Dragons will advance to the Elite Eight in Columbus for the third time in four years. 

The Jefferson softball team made its long trek to South Georgia for a Sweet 16 matchup with Brantley County into something of a mini vacation. It even squeezed in a trip to the Okefenokee Swamp.

But once the sightseeing was over, the Dragons were all business.

Jefferson (25-9) thumped a 23-win Brantley County team in the second round of the Class AAA state tournament, sweeping the Herons 13-0 (five innings) and 7-2 Wednesday on the road in Nahunta to advance to the Elite Eight in Columbus.

“They had a five-hour bus ride to think about things,” said Jefferson coach Kacie Bostwick, whose team departed on Tuesday for the trip, “and that can hurt you or help you depending on the situation … But a lot of the kids who get a lot of playing time have done this before. They don’t get nervous about coming on a road trip. In fact, they get excited. They got to miss school and do something fun today.”

Jefferson will be moving on to Columbus for the third time in four years.

“I think they are continuing on a tradition,” Bostwick said, “and have learned from the culture of the past. And I just kind of think it’s an expectation at this point … Our program, in general, is battle-tested, and they deserve this trip.”

In getting there, the Dragons totaled 20 runs and 17 hits between the two games at Brantley County. Bostwick praised her team’s ability to play small ball and produce those numbers in the two wins.

“We laid down a lot of bunts and, to me, that’s very selfless,” Bostwick said. “We haven’t had to do a lot of small ball this year, but tonight we did, and I always tell our girls, ‘Good things happen when you do your job and when you’re not selfish.’

“We had several people lay down bunts today and end up getting on base as a result. So, it just goes back to good things happen when you do your job.”

Setting the tone early, Jefferson jumped out to an 8-0 lead after two innings in a Game 1 rout. A five-run fifth inning from the Dragons brought the run rule into effect.

Jefferson finished with nine hits in Game 1, including a 2-for-4, three-RBI performance from Chloe Hiatt. Amber Tullis also drove in three runs. Emily Matthews went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Caroline Brownlee went 2-for-2 with an RBI.

The Dragons got rolling with RBI singles from Brownlee, Hiatt and Matthews in the first inning to give Jefferson a 3-0 lead.

An error on a pop-up from Tullis in the second inning allowed both Livi Blackstock and Ellie Kinlaw to score, increasing the lead to 5-0. Hiatt followed with an RBI double to center field to move the lead to 6-0. Two more runs scored on a single from Paige Kelly later in the inning, pushing the lead to 8-0.

After a pair of scoreless innings, Jefferson added to its sizeable lead with a five-spot in the fifth inning. Abby Beatty drew a bases-loaded walk, forcing in a run, to increase the lead to 9-0. Tullis followed with a bases-clearing triple, upping the advantage to 12-0. Hiatt then grounded out to third base, plating Tullis, to make the score 13-0.

Pitcher Camoreena Hart worked a perfect inning in the bottom of the fifth to end the game, via run rule. Hart pitched the final three innings, while Ravyn Saxon threw the first two, as the duo combined to throw a one-hit shutout.

MacKenzie Turner and Abbey Beatty had big games at the plate in the nightcap as the Dragons finished off the sweep. Turner went 3-for-3 with two doubles and two RBIs, while Beatty went 2-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI. The Dragons finished Game 2 with eight hits.

Jefferson cashed in on first-inning mistakes from the Herons to get the second game started. Blackstock scored on an error and Kinlaw on a wild pitch to give the Dragons a 2-0 lead.

A bunt from Blackstock in the second inning plated Kinsie Pugh for the third run of the game. Beatty then scored on a double steal in the bottom of the third, moving the score to 4-0. Turner followed with an RBI single to increase the lead to 5-0. Turner struck again with an RBI double in the fifth inning to increase the lead to 6-0.

Brantley County, after being shutout for 10-straight innings between Games 1 and 2, scored its first runs of the series with a two-run home run from Abbey Flowers in the top of the sixth inning, trimming the lead to 6-2.

Jefferson got one run back in the bottom half of the inning with an RBI double from Beatty.

Saxon allowed just three hits in a complete-game performance in Game 2, striking out six.

“Ravyn was lights out for the most part,” Bostwick said. “She had one missed pitch that went a little further than she wanted it to, but that was one missed pitch. In my book, when I’m calling pitches and I can see what she’s doing, it was like literally a perfect game or almost one and a half games.”

Bostwick added that Hart “didn’t have her best stuff” in Game 1 but battled through it, “and set up Ravyn for the next game.”

“Camoreena has bought into her role and set Ravyn up for that second game really well,” she said.

Jefferson will now return to Columbus seeking the school’s first fast-pitch state championship after finishing as state runners-up last year. The Dragons will start play Thursday against East Hall at 6 p.m. on Field 4. 

“Anything can happen when you’re in Columbus,” Bostwick said. “That’s the goal is just to get there, and so they’ve accomplished that. I hope that our kids are still a little hurt from last year, and they use that to their advantage when we’re down there.”

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