Lady Tro­jans col­lect state title No. 8

The Catoosa County News - - WORSHIP DIRECTORY - By Scott Herpst

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)

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