In a game literally decided by inches, the Columbus softball team dropped a heartbreaker, 2-1, to West Laurens in the opening game of the state tournament on Thursday at the South Commons softball complex.
With the loss, the Lady Blue Devils (30-5-1) fall to the losers bracket, where they will face Lumpkin County in an elimination game at 11 a.m. today on Field 2.
"It's a tough loss, there's no doubt about it," Columbus coach Chad Mathis said. "That game could have gone either way."
The Lady Blue Devils clung to a 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh inning thanks, in large part, to another stellar outing in the circle for sophomore Mary Catherine Smith.
In the final frame, however, some of the balls West Laurens was putting in play finally bounced in its favor.
With one out, the Lady Raiders' Kiley Watson reached on an infield single. The next batter, Lauren Childress, checked her swing, but bounced the ball into the middle of the infield, leaving Columbus without a play on the ball. A groundout put runners at second and third, and the Lady Blue Devils just an
out away from clinching a one-run victory.
West Laurens' Rachel Gibbs sent a bunt down the third-base line, however, which bounced off a player's foot as she tried to let it go foul. Watson scored the tying run, and a single by the next batter brought home the go-ahead run.
Columbus managed a single by Kayla Brena in the bottom of the inning, but could not bring her around to score.
"They just started to hit the ball where I pitched it," Smith said after the game. "We just have to put it in the past now. Forget about it, and come out strong tomorrow."
Mathis praised his young pitcher's performance and also gave credit to West Laurens pitcher Whitney Oliver.
"(Smith) did her job in the circle," he said. "And I give a lot of credit to their pitcher, too. We squared some up, but they made some plays. The small details can come back and get you sometimes."
Columbus got its run in the first inning, when Alexis Jones walked, took second on a sacrifice bunt and came around to score on an RBI single by Smith. After that, the offense was silenced.
It had a chance to get an insurance run, or more, in the fifth inning when Alex Head led off with a single. Two batters later, Jones sent a hard fly ball to right field, but Childress ranged to her right, caught the ball on the run and threw back to first to complete the double play.
Jones said the offense needs to do more at the plate in order to stay alive in the tournament.
"1-0 isn't a very big lead," she said. "We need to score more runs."
Despite the loss, Smith said her team would come out with the same approach as always today.
"We'll do what we've been doing all season," she said.
Mathis said the same, noting his team's composure.
"Our team has great composure," he said. "They're down right now, there's no doubt. But they'll get up and come back in the morning. It's a new day.
"But we've got to play extremely well to overcome some adversity and reach the goals we've set for ourselves."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
Thursday at South Commons
West Laurens 000 000 2 --2 9 1
Columbus 100 000 0 --1 4 0
WP-- Oliver. LP-- Smith (20-3-1). Hitting leaders-- West Laurens, Gibbs 2-4, RBI, Flanders 2-4, RBI; Columbus, Smith 1-3, RBI. Records-- West Laurens (28-10); Columbus (30-5-1). Next-- Columbus, 11 a.m. today vs. Lumpkin County.