Lady Trojans collect state title No. 8
They came to Columbus as the prohibitive favorite to win it all and they left Columbus leaving no doubt.
The juggernaut that is Gordon Lee Lady Trojans fastpitch softball added a third straight Class A Public School state championship trophy and an eighth state championship overall to their collection on Saturday, outslugging and overwhelming Region 6 rival Trion, 144, in a five-inning affair that ended on the run rule.
The game was a tight one for two innings, but the Navy-and-White would erupt for six runs in the both the bottom of the third and fourth innings to blow things wide open.
“It may have taken us a little longer to click this year, but we ended up winning our last 20 (games) in a row,” said head coach Dana Mull, whose team ended the season with another superlative record of 323. “Once we got to where we needed to be, we started peaking a little more each game as the season went on.”
After opening their 15th consecutive appearance in the Elite Eight with a 7-2 win over nemesis Georgia Military College on Thursday morning, the Lady Trojans dropped Trion to the elimination bracket with a 5-1 win on Thursday night before a 5-1 win over another Region 6 member in Mt. Zion on Friday night.
To their credit, the Lady Bulldogs courageously battled their way back to their second Class A Public School championship finals in the last three years - they lost to GMC in the 2015 finals - by winning three times in a marathon of pressurepacked elimination games on Friday.
The threat of rain on Saturday forced the GHSA to move the elimination bracket finals from their traditional 9 a.m. Saturday morning start up to 10 p.m. on Friday. Trion would eliminate Bowdon - the fourth team from Region 6 to make the final eight - with a 4-0 win on Friday afternoon. They followed up with a 12-6 revenge win over GMC before knocking off Mt. Zion, 3-1, in a game that didn’t end until after midnight.
The revised schedule forced Trion back to the field to face Gordon Lee at 9 a.m. on Saturday, needing to win twice to claim their first state fastpitch title and for a while, the Lady Bulldogs would make it interesting.
An RBI-double by Gracey Kruse and an RBI-single by Paxton Grimes would stake the Lady Trojans to a 2-0 lead after one inning, but Trion would load the bases with one out in the top of the second. Mull would replace Canaan Burnett in the circle with freshman Emma Minghini, who got the second via strikes. But Shayla Youngblood would deliver a two-run double to tie the game before Minghini could finally get out of the jam.
However, fatigue began to set in for the Lady Bulldogs a halfinning later.
Kruse hit her second of three doubles to set the table for Grimes, who blasted a two-run homer to right-centerfield to get the inning started. Katherine Grace McElhaney added an RBI-double, while Kirbie Bradley, Faith Alexander and Reagan Thompson all had solo RBIs as the lead grew to 8-2.
Another two-run double, this one by Josie Henderson in the top of the fourth, would briefly pull Trion to within four, but another six-
spot a half-inning later would seal the victory. Alexander, Thompson and Kruse all had RBIhits before Grimes put the exclamation point on the state title with a three-run bomb to left.
Minghini would get the final three outs in the top of the fifth, the last one on strikes, before the celebration would begin in earnest.
Kruse went 4-for-4, while Grimes was 3-for3 with a team-high six RBIs. Her two homeruns gave her 11 for the year and broke the Gordon Lee single-season mark of nine, set by Kruse during her freshman season in 2014.
Alexander went 3-for-3 with three runs scores and a pair of stolen bases. Thompson and Minghini had two hits apiece, while Maddie Clark, Kelsey Lee and Anna Logan all crossed the plate once.
Minghini got the win with 3.2 innings of relief. She allowed four hits and two earned runs with a walk and two strikeouts.
This year’s squad became the first Gordon Lee team to run the state playoff table without a loss since 2011.
“Every team is unique and every team is different,” Mull said. “We had a good mix of seniors and underclassmen this year. I think this team probably had better offensive numbers than last year. We really used our strengths as far as that goes.”
It was the final game and the final win for seniors Alexander, Burnett, Kruse, McElhaney and Janie Durham.
Collectively, they became the ninth consecutive Gordon Lee senior class to have played in four state finals and they became the sixth straight Gordon Lee senior class to have won at least three state championships.
“These seniors have meant a lot to our program,” said Mull. “A lot of them were three and even four-year starters and they all played important roles. Each senior brought a different piece to the puzzle in their own way with their abilities and leadership.
“It’s really hard to put into words what they have meant. They really stepped up for us. They kept the tradition going as seniors and they kept the team focused on what needed to be accomplished. They will all really be missed.”
The senior class of Janie Durham, Faith Alexander, Gracey Kruse, Katherine Grace McElhaney and Canaan Burnett ended their Gordon Lee softball careers with 135 wins against 15 losses, four region championships, one Class AA state runner-up finish, one Class AA state championship and two Class A Public School state championships. (Photo by Donna Burnett)