The Central High School softball coach was encouraged to see the bats come alive in a sweep of Brantley County in the opening round of the Class AAA state playoffs, where the Lady Lions collected 7-0 and 6-0 victories to move into the round of 16.
And even with the combined 13 runs on 19 hits, LeBlanc said there were still some runs left on the bags.
“I feel like we left a lot out there. It was a little bit of a challenge. They had to be real discipline, real patient up there, especially when we started that [second] game right there where the pitcher was a little slower,” LeBlanc said. “But we were able to kind of eke them out there. I think we learned a lot as we went. And the bottom line is, we got two ‘W’s and we get to move on. That’s what matters.”
The top-seeded and fourth-ranked Lady Lions (26-7) provided more than enough run support for sophomore hurler Taylor Funk, who fired a no-hitter in the first game and followed that up with a two-hit shutout in the nightcap, striking out a combined 17 Lady Heron hitters.
“And she was feeling good. I mean, she wasn’t tired at all. That was something that we were looking at,” LeBlanc said. “But we just like our defense when she’s there and we have everybody else where we want on the field.”
Central now moves on to the second round, where it will play host to the No. 2 Swainsboro/No. 3 Peach County winner next week in a best-of-three series for the right to move on to Columbus.
In the opening game on Wednesday, the Lady Lions scored five runs in the third inning on four hits, getting a two-run single by Hayley Sims and a two-run double to the right-center gap from Jordyn Scott, who later scored on an error by the Brantley County catcher.
Central added two runs in the bottom of the fifth, with Sims and Alison Jiles reaching on singles to start the rally. Scott brought home Sims on an RBI base knock and Funk singled home courtesy-runner Eliza Luke for the 7-0 advantage.
Funk didn’t yield a hit in the Game 1 victory, walking a pair and fanning nine. The Lady Herons (9-18) didn’t have one base-runner get into scoring position the entire game.
Scott (2-for-2, 2B, run, 3 RBI) and Sims (2-for-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI) led Central at the plate in Game 1.
In the nightcap, Central scored a pair of runs in the top of the first after Aubrey Bennett, Sims and Cassie Griffin all singled to load the bases for Jiles.
Jiles belted a liner to center field that was caught, but Bennett came home for the sacrifice fly and Sims would also come around to score when the Lady Herons threw Griffin out trying to advance to second, giving the Lady Lions the early 2-0 edge.
Central tacked on a run in the third on an RBI single by Scott, which brought home Luke, to make it a 3-0 affair.
Brantley County got its first hit of the day in the bottom of the third on a one-out double, but Funk stranded the runner at second, recording a flyout to left field and a punchout to end the Lady Herons’ first — and only — scoring threat of the day.
Central stretched the lead to 5-0 in the top of the fourth after Bennett doubled for her third hit of the game and scored on an RBI groundout by Sims. After Griffin drew a walk and stole second, Jiles connected on an RBI single. The Lady Lions got their final run in the top of the seventh when Cade North was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Bennett (3-for-4, SB, 2B, 2 runs), Griffin (2-for-3, 2 SB, BB, 2 runs) and Scott (2-for-3, BB, 2B, RBI) paced Central offensively in the second game.
Funk was in control again in Game 2, yielding two hits through seven shutout innings, walking two and fanning eight.
Central will now await its second-round opponent, and LeBlanc is pleased to know that whoever comes out of the Swainsboro/Peach County series will have to make the trek to Carrollton next week.
“We’ve never been in that situation. Normally, we’re the one that’s making that six-hour bus ride. Last year we were able to get St. Pius at their place, but then we had to go to Allatoona. Now we get to stay here. That says a lot. Peach County or Swainsboro, that’s still a pretty good trip,” LeBlanc said. “It’s just good to get those two [Wednesday]. It’s homecoming week. There are a lot of distractions. I felt very good about our girls. They really have a special chemistry out there. They had fun.”