The Heard County High School softball team received a major scare in the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs last week.
After dropping a 2-1 decision in Game 1 against fourth-seeded Armuchee, the top-seeded Lady Braves had their backs against the wall and season on the line.
But rather than buckle under the pressure, Matt Hornsby's squad gathered itself and displayed the grit of a region champion by rallying for 14-6 and 3-1 victories to advance into the round of 16, highlighted by escaping a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh inning of the rubber game to keep the diamond campaign alive and well.
"As much as you'd like to roll through the first round and be dominant and all that, I'm not so sure that it didn't show our girls that they can fight through a lot more than they originally thought," Hornsby said.
The Lady Braves (21-10) ride that momentum into Round 2, where they'll play host to second-seeded Bleckley County (21-10), which breezed through its first-round series against No. 3 Fitzgerald in 12-1 and 13-2 decisions.
The Lady Braves and Lady Royals open this week's best-of-three affair today in a 3 p.m. twin bill, with the if-game set for 4 p.m. on Thursday.
As the Region 3 runner-up behind Dodge County, the Lady Royals feature two quality arms in the circle, speed at the top of the lineup and some pop in the middle of the order.
But at this stage of the season, every opponent is going to possess plenty of talent from here on out.
Bleckley County has a right-hander and left-hander at its disposal in the circle, and Hornsby said both are pretty solid.
"They're going to try to stay away from us, for the most part. We're going to have to be discipline and lay off a lot of their pitches. The righty's got a pretty good change-up, from what we hear," Hornsby said.
Learning from playing in a three-game series in the first round, Hornsby stressed how you can't allow one bad inning or bad at-bat to deter your entire series.
"That's the thing. It's not like they played terrible in the loss. We just didn't hit the ball. I think we gave up two hits and lost," Hornsby said. "It was still big for them just knowing how good of a season they've had, and they just took it one at-bat, one inning at a time, one out at a time and they came back and get Game 2 and it's all back where you started and you do anything and everything in Game 3 to keep the pressure on them and keep the pressure off you. Our girls were able to do that. I thought we showed a lot of heart and a lot of character."
And now the Lady Braves are just two wins away from a return trip to Columbus. Although the hurdle in front of them is tougher in this round, Hornsby said this group is excited about the opportunity and challenge in front of it this week.
"After graduating what we graduated last year, I'll say it, not a lot of people in this community expected our girls that were coming back to be in this position," Hornsby said. "Us as coaches and them as players thought that they should be, but they still had to come out and do it. For them to be in this position is awesome and they're bound and determined to make sure that they're remembered just as well as any other Heard County team by doing whatever they need to do [Wednesday] and Thursday to make sure that they get the job done and get back down to Columbus."