The latest chapter of Madison County's rivalry with Oconee County ended anti-climatically Thursday night, despite the regular season region championship and hosting privileges in the region tournament being on the line.
Even though the game officially ended with the Red Raiders on top 1-0, no one knew if that was enough to crown them as regular season champs. That's because the teams had to reach to the second tiebreaker to determine a winner, and the tiebreaker was unknown when the game ended.
Had Madison County scored just one more run, they would have had a chance to celebrate on the field, in front of a packed crowd of passionate Madison County students, parents and fans from the community.
Instead they had to wait to learn their fate. The first tiebreaker is run differential against Oconee Co. since both teams were tied on top of the standings with the Raiders' victory. The Warriors won the first matchup 5-4, and Madison County's 1-0 win Thursday essentially tied them at five runs a piece.
The second tie breaker was runs allowed against other region opponents. Madison County only allowed six runs through two games each with Stephens County, St. Pius X and North Oconee. Oconee County allowed a total of 14 runs against those same teams.
RED RAIDERS ON BETTER END OF DEFENSIVE BATTLE
Since Madison County won the region based on a measly amount of runs allowed, it's fitting they would defeat Oconee with an outstanding game on defense. Emma Strickland only allowed two hits all game and didn't give up a walk. Her fielders behind her played a perfect game to prevent more runners from reaching a bag.
Strickland's night ended after just 73 pitches. She never threw more than 13 pitches in any inning and she recorded 13 outs with less than three pitches.
"Emma pitched great tonight, pitched a shutout," said head coach Ken Morgan. "We played great defense, we made all our plays. We did the little things right that we've been preaching about all year.
"All this week we've been playing a lot better defense, relaxing, making plays and making big plays if we need to. They've played the game long enough to make those plays, there's just been a bit of added pressure this year."
Oconee County's defense played well enough to keep a shutout going through five innings and nine bases allowed.
Ultimately the defense cost the Warriors the game. Claire Strickland's double moved courtesy runner Macey Echols to third, but a bad throw to home plate allowed Echols to score standing up.
Strickland moved to second with just one out and Skylar Minish on deck, but Minish flew out to centerfield and Lexi Jordan lined out to first base.
"Claire Strickland has come up in big spots and has really done a great job," Morgan said. "She stepped up twice tonight, just laced the ball twice. She really tore in to it. I'm really proud for her.
"Really, we didn't score that run. They gave us that run on a throw. That's just how tight that ball game was. We could have still been playing, but we found a way to get it done."
Oconee's offense had one more chance to defend their lead in the region standings and even registered their second hit of the game with their leadoff batter. But they wouldn't deny Emma Strickland her night. She needed just seven pitches to retire the last three batters.
"Over the last few years we've developed a rivalry with Oconee County," Morgan said. "That's the kind of fun you should have in high school softball. They enjoyed tonight and it's a great night to be a Red Raider."
LOST CHANCES TO CELEBRATE
Madison County had numerous chances to win the title without going to a second tie breaker. With eight hits and two walks, the Raiders had plenty of runners in scoring position and even loaded the bases in the fifth inning. They left five runners total in scoring position.
"Credit them (Oconee), they made some plays out there," he said. "We had some chances. She (Oconee County pitcher Kayla Orrell) has good spin on the ball. It looks good coming, but she made us miss the middle of the bat.
"I think we were just so hyped up and ready to swing the bat, we might have been a little over aggressive and weren't patient enough on some of her pitches to make her throw a few more. Nothing bad, I just think we were ready to play and wanted to hit it."
Madison County hosts Hart County on Monday, September 23. A senior night ceremony will take place before the game. Madison County won the first meeting 16-3 back on August 6.