By Devin Golden
TUNNEL HILL — Northwest Whitfield’s softball team hadn’t seen this slow so far this year, and the Lady Bruins probably won’t see it again the rest of the way.
But adjusting to South Atlanta didn’t take long.
Thanks to the pitching of Emily Boyd and Brileigh Baggett and good hitting throughout the lineup, Northwest won 17-0 and 18-0 at home Wednesday to sweep in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs. The Lady Bruins won both games via the mercy rule, the first game in three innings and the second in four.
Northwest center fielder Colbie Thomas was the leadoff hitter and got the first crack against the slow speed offered by Kierran Simuel, South Atlanta’s pitcher who threw five innings total and allowed 19 earned runs. Thomas admitted the speed she and the Lady Bruins are used to after a full season of Region 7-4A competition is much faster than what they saw against South Atlanta.
“We’ve been working on hitting slower pitching in practice,” Thomas said.
They patiently adjusted.
After fouling off a couple pitches in an effort to perfect the timing, Thomas laced one into the gap for a triple and scored on a wild pitch to give Northwest a 1-0 lead not even three batters into the first game. She added a double later in the game, then had a single to start the second contest. She only missed a home run for a cycle for the day.
Mykeah Johnson made up for it with a three-run homer in the second inning that clanked off the scoreboard.
In the next game, Hannah Godfrey had an inside-the-park homer on the second at-bat to grab a 2-0 lead. Northwest (29-3) collected 27 hits for 26 earned runs in the doubleheader.
“Maybe too many popups,” said Northwest coach Jason Brooker, whose team won Region 7 to earn a No. 1 seed for state and is ranked first in the Ga.PrepCountry.com Class 4A coaches poll. “We had a lot of them fall in. They couldn’t get to them, but at the start of that second game I thought we came out and started hitting more line drives.”
For South Atlanta, Region 6’s No. 4 seed, it also was an adjustment getting used to Northwest’s pitching speed — just in the opposite direction.
Boyd, a senior who has committed to Ole Miss, pitched the first game, retiring the Lady Hornets (10-5) in order and allowing only one baserunner when she hit a batter. Junior Brileigh Baggett threw the second game, walking two and allowing a third to reach on an error.
The pitching pair combined for 16 strikeouts and no hits, and a lot of the South Atlanta batters were behind Boyd and Baggett’s speed.
“The batters are learning the (speed) of the pitch,” Lady Hornets coach Rita Cruz said. “I would say it was an adjustment.”
Northwest’s Macy Weeks had four hits and six RBIs, Ashley Conner had three hits and three RBIs and Bayli Cruse had three hits and an RBI. Mallory Souther had an RBI double, while Karlie Henson had five hits and an RBI and Jamison Payne added an RBI.
Already ahead 1-0 in the series and with a big lead in the second game, Brooker was able to play some of his younger players. Madison Gowin went 2-for-3 with an RBI, Gabbi Helton scored two runs and Diamond Chastain had two walks, a run scored and an RBI. Shelby Ralston scored a run and Baggett even got to hit in the fourth inning, getting an RBI single to make it 13-0 and later scoring the game’s 16th run.
“It’s great any time you can get all your freshmen and sophomores in for the state playoffs,” Brooker said. “I told Madison after she got her first hit, ‘You’re batting 1.000 for the state playoffs.’”
The Lady Bruins will host the second round of the state playoffs against the winner of the first-round series between Walnut Grove and Carrollton. Walnut Grove, Region 8’s No. 2 seed, is ranked fourth while Region 5 No. 3 seed Carrollton is ranked sixth.
The winner of the second-round, best-of-three series, which will begin next Wednesday, earns a spot among the final eight teams in Columbus. That portion of the postseason, a double-elimination tournament, begins Oct. 25.
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