The Central High School softball team's first-round doubleheader versus Ridgeland on Wednesday was a tale of two ballgames, and now a third game will decide everything.
Opening round one of the Class AAAA state playoffs on their home turf, the No. 2 Lady Lions had very little go right against the No. 3 Lady Panthers 13-0 setback in Game 1 before turning around to tie the series with a 20-5 clobbering of their own in Game 2.
"We knew going into the day that we'd be facing a really good team," Central head coach Dave McKenna said. "They're a one seed in our eyes and they can swing it."
Game 1 of the doubleheader got out of hand quickly for the Lady Lions (18-8) with the Lady Panthers rolling right out of the gate. Already up 1-0 in the top of the second, Ridgeland leadoff hitter Haley Sandridge launched a three-run bomb to center field to put the visitors up 4-0. Ridgeland would tack two more runs on in the inning to further extend its lead.
Central would show signs of a rally in the bottom of the frame when Abbey Cook, Taylor Stephens and Shirley Sharp reached on to load the bases with one out. But the rally was stunted with a Hayley Fehring flyout followed by a Cook pickoff at third.
From there, the Lady Panthers would continue to pile on more runs. In the top of the fourth, a two-run homer from junior Katie Davis would put them up 8-0. Then in the top of the fifth, the Ridgeland lineup batted around to push home five additional runs, giving them more than enough to run-rule the defending state champions in five innings with the 13-0 shutout.
"We kind of came out flat in the first game and they jumped on us," McKenna said. "We just didn't have a vey good approach at the plate. We flew out a lot and missed our pitches when we got them. You can't do that against a well-coached team like Ridgeland because they're going to make plays."
But it was McKenna's Lady Lions who flipped the switch on Ridgeland in Game 2. With two runners on in the top of the first, the senior Cook belted a three-run blast off Lady Panther hurler Hailey Carroll to take a quick 3-0 lead.
Suddenly, the Lady Lion bats came alive.
A five-run third inning was highlighted by an Addi Lyle three-RBI double. Another five-run inning in the fourth would push their lead out to 13-1. Already shelling the Ridgeland relievers, Central would bat around yet again in the top of the fifth to provide more than enough runs to run-rule the Lady Panthers in five innings, 20-5.
"We knew that we had to refocus and regroup and that's what we did," McKenna said. "We came up with a game plan at the plate and it worked for us. Our girls were able to get some hits with runners on and put the pressure on them. I'm proud of how we fought and didn't give up after the first game."
Now its do-or-die for the two combatants as a Game 3 showdown at 5:30 this afternoon will determine who advances to round two to play either Oconee County or Marist. The Central head coach is certainly ready for the fight.
"We live to play another day, so hopefully we come out with the same approach we did in the second game and take care of business," McKenna said.