For the first time since 2004, the Lady Bulldogs are back in the Elite 8.

Cedartown softball used efficient pitching and power hitting to blast past their first-round and Sweet 16 playoff matchups last week. The team swept both best-of-three series, winning at Druid Hills last Monday before upsetting Flowery Branch on Thursday.

Entering the playoffs as the three-seed out of Region 7-4A, the Lady Bulldogs were faced with a tougher road to take through the postseason. That didn’t seem like the case last week as Cedartown crushed Druid Hills, the runner-ups of Region 8-4A, in two games.

It took a little while to get the bats going, but the Lady Bulldogs knocked off the Lady Red Devils 20-0 in Game 1.

Though they led 4-0 through four innings, Cedartown missed several opportunities to blow the game wide open. Luckily, a 16-run fifth inning was right around the corner. 19 players batted in the top of the fifth inning, allowing for the quick mercy-rule in the first matchup.

Reagan Clarke allowed no runs on two hits and one walk, while striking out nine in five innings. Marycille Brumby was 4-for-4 with four runs batted in and three runs scored while Taylor Westmoreland was 2-for-5 with four RBIs. Kaylee Nikolopoulus finished 2-for-4 with 3 runs batted in and three runs scored. Seniors Alexas Poole and Reagan Peek each had two hits, two RBIs, and two runs.

Game 2 was a tale of similar success for Cedartown’s offense, which scored eight runs in the first, three in the second, and six in the third to run-rule Druid Hills for the second time in one day.

Roslyn Blankenship was 3-for-4 in the second win, tallying three RBIs and two runs. Poole hit her ninth homer of 2020, finishing 2-for-2 with two runs and two runs batted in. Carlie Holland added three RBIs and two runs, while Nikolopoulus and Westmoreland had two hits each. Junior pitcher Emme Arp threw a three-inning no-hitter, giving up only one walk while striking out two Lady Red Devil batters.

“I gave the team a few days off between the end of the regular season and the Druid Hills series,” second-year head coach Eddie Gambrell said. “Druid Hills pitched fine, but I felt that our hitting was just on fire. They were completely rejuvenated and ready to go that entire day.”

After the quick wins in DeKalb County, The Lady Bulldogs traveled to Hall County to face off with Flowery Branch, a familiar foe. The Lady Falcons, considered by many as one of the best 4A softball teams in the state, defeated Cedartown in Game 3 of last year’s first-round playoff series to end their season.

“The fact that Flowery Branch beat us in the playoffs was a driving force for us in the Sweet 16,” Gambrell said. “They have a great team and program and we knew it wouldn’t be easy. We knew getting off the bus that we had to come out and set the tone.”

Gambrell’s squad did just that in Game 1. Flowery Branch, thriving off the energy from their massive home crowd, scored three runs in the first two innings. Cedartown’s offense rallied in the top of the third, rattling off five runs to make it a 5-3 ballgame.

The lead was extended with a two-run fifth inning. The Lady Bulldogs and Lady Falcons traded scores in the final few innings, but Cedartown held on for an 8-4 victory. Clarke allowed three earned runs on seven hits and five walks while striking out four in seven innings.

Poole was 2-for-4, with one of those hits being her tenth homer of 2020, with two RBIs and two runs. Ava Allred finished 3-for-4 with two runs batted in and two runs scored while Holland went 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

Cedartown understood that Flowery Branch would give it their best shot with their backs against the wall in Game 2, so the Lady Bulldogs did not waste any early scoring chances.

A six-run first inning put Cedartown in a great position to advance. CHS kept their foot on the gas pedal and withstood a late comeback attempt by the Lady Falcons to win the series with an 11-6 shocker.

Clarke pitched the second game as well, giving up just two earned runs on nine hits and three walks. Holland hit a four-bagger in the win, while Poole, Peak, and Makayla Jordan added two RBIs each. Allred was 2-for-2 with two runs scored as well.

“During the regular season, the offense had spurts of greatness but didn’t have the consistency that I was hoping for. Now, it seems like they’re getting hot at the right time,” Gambrell said after the win.

“We knew early in the season that we could score a lot of runs with this lineup, and they’re finally realizing that potential.”

With its upset of the Lady Falcons, Cedartown advances to its first Elite 8 in 16 years. The Lady Bulldogs are only one series victory away from a trip to Columbus for the Final Four.

Just like the previous round, though, standing in their way is another familiar foe.

Cedartown (21-12) was set to meet LaGrange (21-9) on Tuesday for a doubleheader in Troup County. The Lady Grangers won Region 2-4A this season.

During the four years that both programs found themselves as members of Region 5-4A, the two teams met ten times in regular season games and region tournaments. The Lady Bulldogs were 6-4 against the Lady Grangers, including a regular season sweep of them in 2019.

“We are familiar with LaGrange but the past means nothing. This is a new year,” Gambrell said. “Their hitting is vastly improved this year and their pitching is much, much better. They’re a completely different caliber team and the coaching staff has done a great job with that team.”

Gambrell said he asked the team two questions before they departed the bus upon arriving at Cedartown High School after their wins at Flowery Branch.

“I asked, ‘Are you satisfied with what you’ve accomplished? Because if so, I’ll call LaGrange right now and call it off,’” Gambrell said. “Then I asked them if they can bring the passion and energy they had against Flowery Branch, because if they can, they have the talent and potential to beat any team any given day.”

Before Gambrell ended the phone call to head to practice, the Huntsville, Ala., native wanted to thank the people of Cedartown for their support this season.

“What makes Cedartown great is the support never wavers. That being said, they want to support a winner,” Gambrell said. “We had a great crowd travel to the playoffs and watch the game on WGAA. I had so many emails and texts congratulating us on the win, so we are all very thankful for the support from the people of Cedartown.”

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