The Calhoun Lady Jackets softball season is over as the team fell in walkoff fashion to region rival (and eventual state champion) Ringgold 8-7 last Saturday afternoon at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus. The Lady Jackets went 2-2 in the state tournament, taking down Jefferson and Southeast Bulloch the previous day after an opening 3-0 loss to Lovett.
“I think they learned a lot playing here at Columbus,” Lady Jackets head coach Diane Smith said. “We came together as a team. We didn’t play that well Thursday (versus Lovett). They came together (Friday) and did an outstanding job. I was so proud of them. We fought hard today, but Ringgold’s a good team.”
Calhoun’s offense started out red hot, as senior Erin Barnes and junior Lyndi Rae Davis launched back-to-back home runs off Ringgold starting pitcher Kaylee Phillips. Calhoun would send eight batters to the plate and take a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the first inning.
The Lady Jacket offense reemerged in the top of the third, as Davis led off the frame with a solo home run to right-center field, opening up a 4-1 edge.
Three batters later, sophomore Paris Kirby singled and fellow sophomore Espey Reyes knocked a two-run shot to extend Calhoun’s advantage to 6-1.
Sophomore Kayleigh Warren was the next batter to the plate and got in on the offensive action with a solo blast of her own, making it the second time in the game the Lady Jackets had gone back-to-back.
Warren would be the last batter Phillips would face, as Ringgold junior Taylor Thomas took over on the mound. All signs were pointing toward a Calhoun-Lovett rematch with a trip to the state title on the line.
However, it was not meant to be. The Lady Tigers chipped away at the six-run deficit, scoring two runs in the bottom half of the third and two in the fifth, setting the stage for the bottom of the seventh.
Ringgold was down to its final three outs, but started out the inning with consecutive singles. With runners at the corners, the Lady Tigers went to small ball tactics, and they worked.
A sac bunt scored the runner from third to trim Calhoun’s lead to 7-6. The Lady Tigers would follow up with two more bunts, the second (of three total) scoring a baserunner from third, knotting the game 7-7. Momentum had completely shifted in a matter of minutes.
Ringgold had placed runners on first and second with one out in a now-tied game. The Lady Jackets needed two outs to continue the game and their season.
The Lady Tigers had other plans. Calhoun junior pitcher Maggie McBrayer’s first pitch of the next at-bat was a line-drive single sent to center field. The runner from second beat senior Carlie Henderson’s throw home and Ringgold completed the comeback. In a flash, Calhoun’s season had ended.
“They never gave up so that’s about all you can ask out of your players,” Smith said. “Just give it all you’ve got and leave it on the field and I feel like we did.”
Smith said everyone on the roster, with the exception of the freshmen, were on last year’s team which made an appearance in Columbus, before bowing out after two games (both losses).
“One of them said a while ago, this one hurts more than last year did,” Smith said. “We had five home runs that game. We scored early in the first and the third (innings) and after that, we didn’t score anymore. You’ve got to win every inning.”
For Barnes, Henderson and Lona Sims, Saturday was their final day of varsity softball competition, as the three will graduate in 2020.
“That’s three of the best seniors, not only as players, but just as people,” Smith said. “They’re highly respected by their teammates. They were the backbone of this team and we’ll definitely miss them next year.”
Henderson said, looking back over her softball career, she’ll remember the friendships most.
“There’s nothing like high school ball and there’s nothing like Calhoun Softball,” Henderson said. “These friends that I’ve made, they’ll last for a lifetime.”
Barnes echoed Henderson’s thoughts.
“Every one of them has a special place in my heart,” Barnes said. “I just can’t wait to see what they do and every one of them is unique and special in their own way. I’ll hold on to that forever.”
“How we grew as a team in the postseason, that was amazing,” Barnes said. “To see us finally all come together and play as a team, that’s what it’s all about.”
Henderson said she saw fight and grit from the Lady Jackets, especially after Thursday’s tournament-opening loss to Lovett.
“Everyone had their heads down and I was like ‘Look, we’ve still got one more game. We’re going to fight’ and I think we did that,” Henderson said. “Even though it was a loss, we still fight back.”
Looking at the positives over the course of her career, Henderson said she’ll remember how the team overcame adversity.
“It really shows a lot about the team and our character,” Henderson said. “We almost had it, but we came up a little bit short.”
A look to 2020
While the seniors will depart, Calhoun will have a lot of its talent returning next season, and that has Smith encouraged.
“Experience plays a lot in this game and I think you’re going to see a lot better showing out of us next year,” Smith said. “We did better this year, and next year, I believe we’ll be playing in that championship game even though we’re going to be moving up one or two classifications. We can compete with anybody.”