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By RUSSELL TURNER
Two weeks ago the GCHS softball team was faced with winning their final three region games to have any chance of making the state playoffs.
The Lady Wildcats rose to that challenge, beating Forrest County AHS twice and previously top-seeded Purvis, to put them in contention for the region’s third and final playoff berth. Unfortunately, a couple of close losses had left the Lady Cats in need of some help to make the postseason, and that help just wasn’t in the cards as an unexpected loss by top-ranked Lawrence County to Poplarville pushed the Hornets ahead in the standings.
“We had Lawrence County and Purvis on the ropes in games we feel we should have won, but weren’t able to seal the deal and those losses came back to haunt us,” GCHS skipper Tyler Barham said. “I still think we are one of the best teams in the region and could have been the top team with a couple of breaks along the way, but that is how it goes in softball sometimes.”
“I am very proud of the team for the way the girls fought down the stretch. This group is very young and to battle back to give themselves a shot at the playoffs says a lot about these players.”
Barham’s team finished the year at 12-8 overall and 5-5 in region play. The Lady Cats held senior night activities on Tuesday night, celebrating the efforts of seniors McKay Lee Bray and Paris Pierce, in getting the team to that point. But, those are the only two starters that aren’t slated to return next year.
“I think the outlook for GCHS softball is very good,” Barham added. “We learned some tough lessons this year, but tasted success and learned a lot.”
“I think we got a lot of people’s attention and will enter next year as a team to be reckoned with and with a target on our backs because of that.”
The top seven offensive producers are expected to be back next year. That group includes two freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors. There are also several freshmen and eighth graders expected to see playing time next year.
Sophomore shortstop Kat Garrett leads the group. A solid defender, Garrett is also impressive at the plate and entered the final week of the season with a team-leading .468 average and 25 runs scored. She also had 16 RBIs, seven extra base hits and team-high 10 stolen bases.
Freshman third baseman Charlee Meadows has had a breakout season as well. Meadows started the week with a .417 average and leading the team with 20 RBIs. She belted 13 extra base hits with seven doubles, four triples and two home runs.
Junior Kayla Mazzocchi had a little bit of a slow start, but roared through the second half of the season to jump into second place on the team with a .438 batting average. The right fielder is a team leader in hits and runs scored.
Sophomore catcher Tiana Caver really progressed defensively throughout the season and continued to be a big part of the GCHS offense at the plate. She was among the team leaders entering the final week with 12 runs scored and 10 RBIs to her credit.
Junior Destiny Eubanks and sophomore Hannah Hillman proved to be solid weapons for Barham as well and both entered the final week with batting averages above .300. Eubanks also had 16 RBIs and 14 runs scored, while Hillman had 14 RBIs and eight runs scored.
Freshman Charleigh Stewart was sitting at 11 RBIs on Monday and has also come on strong as a dependable part of the GCHS pitching rotation. She tossed 6 2/3 innings on Monday against FCAHS to bump her season record to 4-3.
Hillman was the workhorse in the pitcher’s circle with a team-high 70.1 innings under her belt through Monday. She was looking to improve on her 8-5 record on Tuesday and entered the final week with 44 strikeouts, compared to 20 walks.
Eighth grader Taylor Brewer also showed her abilities this year, getting a few innings of varsity action along with a lot of time in the circle during junior varsity games.
Results from the Lady Cats Tuesday matchup with Citronelle were not available at press time. They are slated to finish the season with a home game against Meridian on Thursday, but that matchup is questionable due to the treat of severe weather projected for the area.