Two games, both decided in the final inning, and today we’ve got more softball to play. The Lowndes Vikettes and Hillgrove Hawks split their Sweet 16 doubleheader on Wednesday forcing one more game today at Lowndes.
The doubleheader turned out to be the tale of two games with a pitching duel in the first game and a slugfest in the second.
In Game One, Haley Fowler took the mound and continued to build on what has been a sparkling season both on the bump and at the plate.
Fowler pitched seven innings of two-run ball — one earned — to keep the Vikettes within striking distance of the Hawks and their excellent pitching.
Hillgrove went up early in the game as they got to Fowler for two runs, but Lowndes showed resolve and continued to battle all night long.
Becca Prairie cut the lead to a run with a double in the fifth inning, but in the sixth inning, the Vikettes would leave two runners on base, setting the stage for the first big late-game hit of the evening.
As if it were from a scene in a movie, Madison "Mad Dog" Floyd strolled to the plate with runners on second and third and two outs with a chance to be the hero in the bottom of the seventh in a one-run game. Floyd didn’t let the opportunity pass her by.
After working a full count, Floyd found a pitch she liked and hit it all the way to the wall to bring both runners home.
“I was super nervous going up there,” said Floyd. “It was nerve-racking. Once I got in the count, I settled down and I was like, ‘It’s now or never so I’ve got to do something.’ The whole game was a team effort; it wasn’t just that one hit. We all worked together.”
Lowndes looked to ride the momentum of the walk-off victory to another playoffs sweep, but the Hawks wouldn’t go down quietly.
Crystal Eason is the other half of Lowndes’ dominating duo of starting pitchers, but Hillgrove was up to the challenge; the Hawks loaded the bases in the first inning on a hit, error, and bunt before the first out of the inning was recorded.
Eason was able to work herself out of the jam with only one run being given up thanks to two big strikeouts and a ground out to first to end the inning.
The Vikettes showed their resiliency by getting the run back in the next inning on an illegal pitch by Hillgrove’s Taylor Decelles, but they could not hold the Hawks bats.
A double put Hillsgrove up 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth, but once again, Lowndes bounced back, this time in the top of the sixth, by scoring two runs on an error on a ground ball to second base.
However, Ambria Derry clubbed the go-ahead home-run to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Hawks up 4-3. Two doubles later and the score was 5-3.
Hillgrove would continue their offensive explosion at the expense of Eason who would get roughed up for 10 runs in five innings of 10-3 loss to the Hawks.
“Hillgrove’s a great team, that’s what’s expected at this time. In the Sweet 16 they’re all good,” said Lowndes head coach Stewart Thomas. “They hit the ball well, they have two good pitchers. We hit the ball well too, that’s what we did in the first game. We got some big hits when we needed them. Madison Floyd came up with the game-winning hit. That’s what we need to do, you play good defense, you pitch well, and you give yourself a chance to win at the end.”
Hillgrove stayed another night in Valdosta and to play the rubber match of the series today at 4:30 p.m. at Lowndes, which should give the Vikettes the slight advantage.
“I think it’s all about a routine,” said Thomas. “That’s what we’ve got going for us and that’s the positive of these girls working hard and winning region. It gives them a chance to stay in the routine, play at home, play on their own field and Hillgrove can’t do that, they have to stay in a hotel. They don’t get to sleep in their own beds, they have to eat a continental breakfast so that’s tough. But the end of the day it’s going to come down to who executes.”