Monday, June 24, 2024

Georgia softball advances to Super Regional in thrilling fashion

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In a do or die situation, Georgia softball survived and advanced.

The Bulldogs swept Liberty in two games Sunday at Jack Turner Stadium to win the NCAA Athens Regional and advance to the Super Regionals. Georgia was just an out away from getting eliminated in the Tournament.

The Bulldogs entered Sunday with their backs against the wall. In order to advance, Georgia needed to win two games against Liberty, who the Bulldogs fell victim to Saturday afternoon. A single loss would end the Bulldogs’ season and the collegiate careers of the 10 seniors on the team.

“I can’t say enough [about] how proud I am of our group,” head coach Tony Baldwin said. “How excited and thrilled that we get to play some more softball. When we set out this weekend, that was the goal. Not let this be the end, and thankfully, [playing clean softball is] why it worked out.”

A premature end to the season appeared likely with three outs left to play in game seven. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Georgia trailed Liberty by a run. Through the first six innings, the Bulldogs had only collected three hits off of Liberty’s Elena Escobar.

After a flyout began the inning, Emily Digby singled to put the tying run on base. Ellie Armistead bunted Digby into scoring position, but the sacrifice left Georgia down to its final out. With the season on the line, Dallis Goodnight stepped up to the plate.

It was not the hardest of hits, but it got the job done. Goodnight bounced a pitch up the middle to score Armistead and tie the game. The ball was placed exactly where the Liberty defenders were not, and Armistead’s slide at the plate brought new life to the Bulldogs.

After Goodnight advanced to second on the throw home, Sydney Chambley stepped into the batter’s box. Chambley shot the first pitch she saw over the head of Flames center-fielder Mary Claire Wilson to walk the game off and send Jack Turner Stadium into pandemonium.

The hit extended Georgia’s season for at least another week and completed a thrilling comeback in front of its home crowd. It also sent the Bulldogs’ fleeing from their dugout to swarm Chambley on the field with teams of joy streaming down their faces.

“I’m thinking about [how] my teammates have set me up to be in that position,” Chambley said. “The confidence in my teammates put me there, so I’m going to get the job done for them.”

After dropping its second game in the Athens Regional, the Bulldogs won three straight to avoid elimination. In game six, Georgia used six home runs to defeat the Flames by a score of 14-5.

In the win, Jayda Kearney and Sara Mosley became the first pair of Georgia teammates to each record 20 home runs in a single season. Mosley is now three long balls away from tying the record of most career homers at Georgia.

After the offensive explosion in game six, Georgia’s bats went cold to begin game seven. The Bulldogs trailed Liberty 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth, after a double and a home run put the Flames on the board. The walkoff hit from Chambley gave Georgia a 3-2 win.

Georgia’s pitching staff was brilliant in its final two outings of the Regional round. In game six, Madison Kerpics and Lilli Backes combined for seven innings of five-run ball. Backes’ 3.1 innings earned her the win, and her low pitch count allowed her to start game seven.

In the ‘winner takes all’ game seven, Backes was even better. She allowed two runs on a double and a solo homer in her complete game effort. She finished the day having thrown 165 pitches in 10.1 innings.

The two wins brought the Bulldogs’ overall total to 43, which tied for the most victories in the Baldwin era. They also punched Georgia’s ticket to its 13th Super Regional appearance in program history and first consecutive appearances since 2015 and 2016.

The Bulldogs will now face No. 6 UCLA in the Super Regional round beginning on Thursday. Game one of the best of three series is set for 9:30 p.m. and will take place in the Bruins’ home stadium.

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