Prior to Saturday’s second softball game between Northside and Stephens County, Lady Patriots head coach Brandon Jenkins made a bold proclamation to his team.
Northside was just minutes removed from a 2-0 loss to Stephens County in Game 1 of a battle for the Class 4A state championship. With a winner-take-all game now on deck, Jenkins advised his team that a hot start would mean everything.
“I told them, ‘We’re going to repeat what we did last night (in a win over West Laurens). If you go out there, shut them out in the top of the first and we score in the bottom of the first, the game’s over,’” Jenkins said.
And with the stakes higher than ever before, that’s exactly what the Lady Patriots did.
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After starting pitcher Hannah George quickly sat the Stephens County hitters down to open the game, George and freshman left fielder Karlee Fuller fired up three quick runs. It set the pace for the Lady Patriots, who defeated Stephens County 6-0 to clinch the first state title in program history.
George jumpstarted the offense in the bottom of the first inning, smacking an RBI single to the center field wall. Fuller then showed off her power yet again this tournament, hitting a two-run home run to stretch the lead.
Fuller said the players were vocal with each other after the Game 1 loss and emphasized how important a high-energy level would be with a title on the line. With her home run, she gave her team an adrenaline rush it rode for the remaining six innings.
“It was an outside pitch. I saw it, and I just knew it was my pitch so I hit it,” Fuller said. “I was so happy that we were up and this would be our game.”
Northside’s mantra this season was “Pass the bat,” which meant each hitter would do her job at the plate then pass the bat to a teammate to do the same. The Lady Patriots made that creed a reality against the Lady Indians, especially after Fuller’s blast.
Right fielder Jada Chadwick padded the team’s lead in the fourth, hitting an RBI double to put the Lady Patriots ahead by five. Center fielder Emily Holmes put the finishing touches on the win with an RBI double one inning later.
While the Northside hitters made all kinds of noise, George kept Stephens County quiet.
After striking out eight batters in Game 1, George pitched just as well in her final high school start, mowing down eight more and surrendering only one hit in seven innings. She clinched the win with a strikeout, which was a just close to her high school career and the Patriots’ season.
“I was trying not to cry. I was happy, but I was sad because it was my last game playing in a Northside uniform,” said George, who is committed to play at North Carolina. “These girls are straight-up ballers. They’re an amazing group of girls, and I’m just excited we get the win for them and for previous and future Northside players as well.”
For George and the entire Northside program, Saturday’s win was a proper end to a dream they’ve been chasing since this time last year. The Lady Patriots played for the Class 4A title in 2016, ultimately losing to Central-Carrollton.
Now with the benefit of hindsight and a championship trophy, Jenkins reasoned that defeat set this year’s team up to go all the way.
“It feels unbelievable. It’s been a long 12 months,” Jenkins said. “I told the girls after last year, ‘Remember the score.’ We got beat 3-1. I said, ‘That won’t happen again.’ They worked really hard in the offseason, and we weren’t going to be satisfied by anything but a state championship.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports