It wasn’t just one dominating performance that got the No. 4 Lady Lions (28-7) to this point — although several players had outstanding games. The pair of wins combined some senior leadership, along with some of the underclassmen playing above and beyond their years.
“I’m just really, really proud of what they’ve done throughout the year. Graduating as many people as we did last year, I really don’t listen to what other people have to say about us, but I imagine they said we were going to be pretty young this year. They’re young, but they don’t play young. A lot of the young ones played last year, so they played like veterans this year and then some younger ones that have stepped up,” Central coach Jimmy LeBlanc said. “Just a solid performance all the way around.”
For one senior, catcher Alison Jiles, making it to Columbus adds another check on her list of goals for this year’s team.
“I said a long time ago that our main goal was first region champs and now elite eight. I don’t think it’s set in yet, but I’m glad we’re celebrating a win. I’m really glad we brought the tradition back because Central softball has been known for making it far,” Jiles said. “I can honestly say I’m very glad this has happened my senior year and lucky to have Taylor [Funk] as the pitcher making it there. We just have a bond back there.”
When Jiles was given the chance to swing her bat — she was walked three times in the game — she showed why she has been pitched around all season. The senior went 4-for-5 on the day with a solo home run, three doubles, four RBI and five runs — four by courtesy-runner Eliza Luke — scored. Her four RBI gives her 57 on the season, which ties her for eighth all time in a single season in the state of Georgia across all classifications.
Another dominating performance would be Funk’s pair of shutouts. The sophomore hurler pitched a total of 10 scoreless innings, giving up just four hits — only one in the second game — with 11 strikeouts and a walk.
“Wow, that’s incredible. The thing, too, some of the defensive plays behind her. [Rebekah Smith] made a couple catches out there. I really felt like their team speed was going to be a factor. But when they tried to get the ball on the ground, our girls were after it. Pretty outstanding job from the rubber, and she’s done that two weeks in a row and even prior to that. She’s just been lights out,” LeBlanc said.
Jiles and Funk have combined as the battery in some of the biggest games in Central’s recent history.
“I just think how great we are and how lucky I am to have them behind me and these two great seniors [Jiles and Shena Chambers] to support me,” Funk said. “It’s pretty great being a sophomore and going and having [Jiles] back there calling my pitches.”
As with most lineups, the top of the order did the most damage. Aubrey Bennett was 3-for-7 with four runs scored and two RBI in the leadoff spot, with Hayley Sims (2-for-6, 3 runs, 4 RBI) and Cassie Griffin (4-for-7, 4 runs, 4 RBI) behind her before Jiles’ big night. In two games, LeBlanc sent 11 different batters to the plate. Each batter got at least one hit and scored a run, and every batter but one got an RBI in the game.
“I know when you’re on the other side of that, it’s extremely frustrating. They have worked. We found a couple different lineups that we’ve worked with and they’ve been really productive. We had hits through all spots. That’s nice to have,” LeBlanc said.
Now the Lady Lions will take the trip to Columbus for the first time since their Class AAA state runner-up finish in 2006 when they meet up with fellow top seed Blessed Trinity (25-12) next Thursday in the double-elimination round of eight. This time around is a trip LeBlanc hopes his team cherishes.
“I tried to tell them, you better enjoy this between now and our next practice because this doesn’t happen every year. Just enjoy it and make the most of it when we get down there,” LeBlanc said.