jma softball semifinals

The John Milledge softball players and coaches pose for a team photo in front of the scoreboard after Saturday’s state semifinal sweep of Trinity Christian.

The John Milledge Academy softball team has showed up when the games meant the most, and it’s earned them back-to-back berths to the GISA AAA state championship series.

JMA earned that right Saturday by sweeping Trinity Christian out of the semifinals, winning game 1 6-3 before taking the series thanks to a 10-0 game 2 result.

The Lady Trojans were just 11-7 through the 2020 regular season, but have blazed past their playoff opponents by a combined score of 42-7 to earn the right to play for the title. 

Lady Trojan senior pitcher Brayden Latimer was fairly dominant in the semifinal series opener against the visiting Lady Crusaders from Dublin. The southpaw struck out nine batters throughout the ballgame, including two in the final inning, and walked only one. Toting a 3-0 lead into the third, her defense propped her up after she surrendered a two-run home run that rocketed over the right-centerfield fence. Latimer bounced back to allow only two Trinity baserunners to reach for the remainder of that first ballgame. 

Offensively, the back half of the John Milledge order provided the spark that propelled the team to the 1-0 series lead. Taylor Prestridge, Emily Walker and Ella Hudgins — batting seventh, eighth and ninth respectively — all brought runs home in the second to give the team some early breathing room. Freshman Ashley Tyson pushed the fourth run across in the third, and senior shortstop Olivia Rhodes put the cherry on top by driving in a pair in the sixth. Rhodes was 1-for-4 in the first game, and was just getting started. 

Going up 1-0 in the series worked wonders for the host Lady Trojans confidence-wise.

“We knew we could beat them after we won that first game,” Latimer said 

That boosted confidence helped John Milledge come out of the gate at a tear in game 2, scoring three runs apiece in the first two innings to dash Trinity’s hopes of coming back. Prestridge again answered the call with a bases-loaded double in the first, and three different players pitched in to drive the runs home in the second. The following inning Rhodes did a little more tacking on with a solo bomb to right field, and that would be her third of four hits in Saturday’s game 2. 

The game hit a lull in the fourth and fifth innings, but the Lady Trojans again put up a three-spot in the sixth thanks to hits by Tyson and Latimer. 

Up 10-0 at that point, JMA had only to hold Trinity to end the game early and secure its spot in the state championship. Two runners reached, but Rhodes snagged a line drive and stepped on second for a double play to bring an end to the game and the Lady Crusaders’ season. 

The opponent awaiting the Lady Trojans in the state finals is one they know very well. The Westfield School out of Perry stands on the other side of the bracket after having swept Bulloch Academy Saturday to advance. JMA and Westfield met for the AAA championship last season, and the Perry school won that series 2-0 with 12-4 and 3-1 final scores. That secured the Lady Hornets’ third consecutive state championship, so their senior class will be looking to go 4-for-4 throughout their varsity careers. Westfield won the two 2020 regular season meetings against the Lady Trojans 14-4 and 4-0.

Rhodes said Saturday that there is one major key to taking down the powerhouse softball program.

“It’s all mental, so we’ve got to go in there with the right mentality,” she said. “It’s time to get our redemption, honestly.”

The GISA AAA state softball finals this year are being held at the Southern Pines Recreation Complex in Dublin, Ga., and will take place over two days. Game 1 is slated for 5 p.m. Thursday with game 2 scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. If necessary, game 3 will also be played Saturday. 

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