Editor's Note: An abridged version of this story appears in the Sept. 16, 2021, edition of The Oconee Enterprise.
Prince Avenue Christian School’s softball team scored a dramatic win last Thursday.
The Lady Wolverines hosted Hebron Christian Academy and won 8-7 in nine innings. The extra-inning contest improved Prince Avenue’s area record to 3-0 ahead of this past Tuesday’s matchup against Wesleyan, the only other undefeated team in the area.
Last week’s game ended in walk-off fashion.
With the game tied at 7, Rachel Biggs led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Audrey Vandagriff pushed her up to second base with a single of her own.
Madi Gillespie dug in with one out. Gillespie fouled off one pitch before smacking a single into left field. The play scored Biggs, giving the Lady Wolverines a dramatic 11th victory of the season.
“It was amazing,” Gillespie, a senior, said about the big moment. “My last few at-bats, I didn't have the best outcome, so I was just focusing on getting better each at-bat. I knew I had to come up big the last inning to get my team the win and I did it and it felt great.”
The game was a unique one for many reasons.
It’s rare seeing a high school softball game go so far past regulation, which is seven innings.
Additionally, in Prince Avenue Christian’s case, it was one of just three games this year that lasted seven innings or longer. The Lady Wolverines’ other games ended early thanks to their large leads invoking the mercy rule.
But inclement weather had largely affected their schedule across the two weeks before playing Hebron.
They started and stopped against Oglethorpe County High School multiple times and never got a complete game. They drove to Lake Oconee Academy on Sept. 7 and saw that game get postponed due to lightning.
The next night, Prince Avenue beat Stephens County in a game that got called in the sixth inning thanks to lightning, too.
“We haven't played a lot of seven-inning games,” Prince Avenue Christian head coach Donnie Byrom said. “We've run-ruled teams and finished in five, we've had three shortened games because of lightning. So, just having to go seven shows the hard work and endurance that they've built because we do practice hard. They're one of the hardest-working teams in the state of Georgia in practice. I was glad to see that pay off when we had to go from playing five-inning games to, basically, almost two games in one.”
Prince Avenue Christian and Hebron kept pace throughout the game.
Hebron went up 1-0 in the top of the first but the Lady Wolverines tied it in the bottom of the frame thanks to an RBI groundout from Gillespie, who brought home Taylor Thomas after Thomas reached via a triple.
The Lady Lions went up 2-1 in the top of the second.
Biggs reached on a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the second before Vandagriff singled to put Biggs in scoring position. Thomas singled to bring home Biggs.
Gillespie loaded the bases on a single. Lauren MacDonald notched a base hit and RBI to give the Lady Wolverines a 3-2 lead. Then, Ella Osborne added onto that lead with an RBI single.
Hebron tacked on a run in the third before adding three in the fifth to go ahead 6-4. The Lady Wolverines went quiet for a while but found new life in the bottom of the sixth.
Osborne doubled with one away and led a raucous celebration while standing on second base. Keirsten Perry reached on a fielder’s choice after Hebron failed to throw Osborne out at third.
With two outs, Bailey Throckmorton delivered a two-run single to tie the game at 6.
The Lady Lions went up 7-6 in the top of the seventh, but Vandagriff led off the bottom of the frame with a single and worked her way to third via a steal and a groundout, and she scored on a groundout by Gillespie.
Hebron went scoreless in the eighth and ninth innings before Gillespie delivered her walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth.
“We wanted it so badly,” Osborne said. “Our last four games have been rained out, so we've probably played three innings of every game we've been playing in the last two weeks, so I feel like we just wanted to come out here and play a good game. We wanted to show what we had.”
Vandagriff led the team with four hits. Thomas and Osborne each had three hits. Gillespie, MacDonald and Throckmorton had two hits apiece while Perry and Biggs had one hit.
Gillespie finished with three RBIs, followed by Throckmorton with two and Thomas, MacDonald and Osborne with one apiece.
Gillespie pitched all nine innings. She allowed five earned runs on nine hits and five walks while striking out five batters.
That offensive success across the board continued a strong run by the Prince Avenue Christian batters.
In their 13 games before Tuesday, the Lady Wolverines had 10 games where they scored eight runs or more. They average more than 10 runs per game.
Though they are frustrated that Mother Nature has cost them so much playing time, the Lady Wolverines said the recent weather stoppages allowed them to practice more, leading to higher run production.
“There's been so much rain, and every time it rains, that's just a hundred more swings we get done in the cages out there,” Vandagriff said. “I think us really focusing in the cages has helped us to succeed more at the plate. We've worked on counts and approach at the plate and what you're looking for. You're not looking for the pitcher's pitch, you're looking for your pitch. And with two strikes, you're just fouling it off, trying to put it in play.”
Specifically, the team spends time focusing on pitches on the outside portion of the plate with one of Byrom’s assistants, Rodney White.
“Coach Rodney will just pitch it outside and we work on hitting it to the right field,” Osborne said. “That's one of the main things we work on. We have an outside drill on a tee where we just hit it outside, and they're also speeding up their velocity in the cages. They're throwing it a little bit harder to get us ready for George Walton and Wesleyan.”
The Lady Wolverines hosted Wesleyan this past Tuesday after press time. They will continue area play Thursday against King’s Ridge Christian.
Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy and Lake Oconee Academy will be in Bogart this Saturday, too.
Byrom said he anticipates good things for his team if it can continue rolling like it did the last couple of weeks.
“I have a lot of confidence as long as we stay aggressive with our mindset and we keep battling at the plate,” he said. “When you don't strike out, you force the other team to make a lot of plays. We want to force them to not only make a lot of plays but to make a lot of hard plays. We're gonna keep doing those things. And if we do those things, I like our chances.”