TUNNEL HILL, Ga. - When you beat a team ranked in the top 10 in the state by scores of 5-0 and 15-1 and know you still haven't played your best, it's a good feeling for a high school softball coach.
Jason Brooker's Northwest Whitfield Lady Bruins did just that Wednesday in the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament, cruising past sixth-ranked Carrollton to earn the program's third trip to the Elite Eight in Columbus in the last four years. The first-year coach is looking forward to the next few days.
"We just took care of business, and that's been our motto all year," he said of his 31-2, top-ranked team. "They're better than the final score showed. It's a relief right now and we can relax for a day or two, but we still have work do to."
Senior pitcher Emily Boyd, despite battling a cold, was her usual dominating presence in the circle, tossing all 14 innings and allowing six hits, no earned runs and striking out 20. The only trouble she ran into came in the second inning of game one.
Nursing a 1-0 lead Boyd allowed a leadoff single to Samantha McDaniel and a one-out double to Katie Jones to put runners on second and third. The future Ole Miss Rebel recovered to strike out Taylor Schroeder on a 3-2 fastball and caught Amelia Cooper looking to end the threat.
"At the beginning they came out ready to play, and the first game was definitely tougher," Boyd said. "I guess they lost some focus in the second game. I know they had said on some message board that rankings didn't matter, so we wanted to show them that it does. We have a lot of experience in these situations and I think it showed tonight."
The Lady Bruins had multiple runners on base in each of game one's six innings, and though they left 11 runners on, Ashley Conner's two-run single keyed a three-run fourth inning that gave Boyd more than enough support. Conner added an RBI double in the sixth, while Bayli Cruse had two hits and an RBI to lead an eight-hit attack.
In the second game blowout, Conner added three more hits and knocked in three, while Hannah Godfrey added three hits and two RBIs and Mallory Souther drove in four runs on two hits, including a two-run homer in the third inning when the score was still just 2-1.
"That homer was sweet, and it gave us a little breathing room," Brooker said. "We shut them down right after that and seemed to take the life out of them."