Other than what Chapel Hill players have heard from the scouting report, they admit to not knowing much about Cairo, today’s opponent in the Class AAAA second round of the playoffs.
The teams open their best-of-three series today in Douglasville with a 5 p.m. doubleheader. If the teams split, they will play on Thursday with the winner advances to the Elite Eight in Columbus.
“It could be to your advantage not to know about a team because you don’t have any preconceived thoughts about them,” Chapel Hill sophomore outfielder Ivory Jones said. “You just go out their and play the game. We just have to continue to do the things that have got us this far. We just want to play like we usually play. We don’t know each other but we have been quick to learn opponents during the game.”
And those consist of some solid pitching and timing hitting for the Region 5-AAAA champions. The defending state champions are looking to make their third straight trip to the Elite Eight in Columbus.
“Yes, there is some pressure there in being the defending champions,” senior infielder/outfielder Bella Caricari said. “You hear it all the time around the school in people asking are we going to repeat. This is the big round in the playoffs. You win this and you go to Columbus. Our focus right now is just on Cairo.”
The South Georgia team comes into the game with a 24-6 record after sweeping Thomson in the first round of the playoffs. Chapel Hill defeated White County in two games at home last week.
“It was very important to win it in two games,” Jones said. “We hope to move another step closer to our goal. We are just looking to keep it going.”
As a team, the Panthers are hitting .293 with 187 runs scored and 19 home runs. Chapel Hill is led by junior Savana Sikes, who has a .488 average in 99 at-bats with 24 runs scored. Sophomore Paige Vincent less the team with 34 RBI and has a team-leading four home runs, including three grand slams.
Since returning from offseason knee surgery, Ashley Morgan has been a major contributor at the plate and on the rubber. She has a .265 batting average with two home runs.
The reigning state Gatorade Softball Player of the Year has also been a big force again in the circle. She has a 1.73 ERA in 44 1/3 innings with 57 strikeouts.
During her absence, younger sister Kira Morgan developed into the Panthers ace pitcher alone with Vincent.
Kira has pitched 117 innings and thrown 66 strikeouts and has a 1.79 ERA. As a team, the Panthers come into the game with a 1.92 ERA.
A big surprise for Chapel Hill has been the play of freshman infielder Taylor Middlebrooks. She has hit .275 with three home runs and has scored 24 runs, which ties her for second most on the team.
“It is super exciting to be in this position as a freshmen,” Middlebrooks said. “There are not that many freshmen that get a chance to play in state. I’ve learned throughout the season that we have each others back. We have really grown as a team.”