An impressive local softball streak continued Saturday.
The John Milledge Lady Trojans swept Southland Academy out of the GISA AAA playoffs and secured their spot in the state semifinals for a sixth straight year. JMA took the best-of-three series handily, winning 11-1 in Game 1 before finishing the sweep 15-3 in Game 2.
All of that success came even though the team recently replaced first-year head coach Sydney Lack near the end of the regular season. John Milledge athletic director JT Wall told The Union-Recorder Monday that Lack was “relieved of her coaching duties,” a few weeks ago, but would not provide a reason.
Assistant coach Rachel Prestwood has been named the new head, but former JMA baseball coach Justin Mills handled most of the duties in Saturday’s playoff series.
The Lady Trojans proved that they are a talented team, no matter who’s calling the shots. As the No. 3 seed they dominated the sixth-seeded Lady Raiders to move on to the Final Four. Senior pitcher Brayden Latimer threw five innings in Game 1 and surrendered no earned runs while striking out three. Her defense let her down a couple of times in the top of the third, but the bats picked the team up soon after. Shortstop Olivia Rhodes whacked a one-out single and eventually came around to score her second of four runs in the series opener. Avery Barton and Cadence Bandows knocked in a couple more. Bandows was 3-for-3 in Game 1, and it turned out Barton was just getting started. She chased Ella Hudgins home in the fifth and ended the first game early in the sixth with a bases-clearing triple off the left-field fence.
That fence-rattler proved to be a sign of greater things to come in Game 2. Barton, a junior transfer from Monticello/Jasper County, went yard in her second at-bat of Game 2. The three-run moonshot to left put her team up 5-0 early.
Southland answered with three runs soon after, but the Lady Trojans struck big time in the fourth after a sleepy third inning. Hudgins and Rhodes reached to lead off the frame, but did not have to stay out on the basepaths long as Barton’s bat went boom again, this time out to centerfield. After batting cleanup in Game 1, Barton was moved to second in the JMA lineup in a move similar to what the Atlanta Braves have done with MVP candidate Freddie Freeman.
“I feel like that’s a movement in baseball and softball right now,” Coach Mills said. “Avery’s been so hot that it’s hard to see her hit fourth. The further up she is in our lineup, the more often she gets to hit. She’s one of the best hitters in the state, so we’ve got to get her as many at-bats as possible.”
Barton finished the day with 13 RBIs between the two games with eight coming in Game 2. Five actually came in her team’s 10-run fourth inning alone.
The bats kept on ringing as the Lady Trojans scored 10 in the fourth to end the playoff series early. Junior Emily Walker went 2-for-3 in game 2 with 3 RBIs in a solid plate performance.
John Milledge softball’s Final Four opponent had not been determined as of presstime Monday. Trinity Christian of Dublin and Tiftarea are on the other side of the bracket, but they did not get to play Saturday due to weather. They were scheduled to square off Monday to determine who moves on to face the Lady Trojans. The state semifinal series is set to begin Saturday at a to-be-announced location.