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Derrck Mahone/Douglas County Sentinel Chapel Hill freshman Derica Price has been productive in the lead-off spot after earning a starting spot in the outfield earlier this season.

Chapel Hill and Stephens County have a little history in the state playoffs.

Last season, Savanna Sikes hit a solo homer in the top of the seventh inning to extend the Panthers season in the Elite Eight Tournament in Columbus last October.

The two teams meet again on today in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs with a trip to Columbus on the line.

Chapel Hill will host the Indians in the best-of-three series with a 5 p.m. doubleheader.  

The Panthers bring a 14-game winning streak into the game.

“I feel like we are still hungry,” said Sikes, who is one of two seniors on this year’s team. “We want to get back to Columbus. This is it for the seniors. We are ready to go and play hard to get back.”

Two years removed from a state title, the Panthers finished fourth overall last season.

Prior to the current 14-game winning streak, the Panthers struggled in the early part of the season. However, the turnaround has the team at 20-9 coming into the series.

“It was just a matter of us starting to believe in ourselves,” Panthers freshman shortstop Rylie Moody said. “We know how crucial this series is with Stephens County.”

The Indians will again rely on pitcher Emma Whitfield to help keep Chapel Hill off balance. In last season’s playoff game, she only surrendered five hits before giving up the late inning homer to Sikes.

“Everybody knows that their strength is their arm in in the circle,” Chapel Hill coach Mickey Harper said. “She really knows how to hit her spots. She has a good curve ball and a rise ball. She is a true pitcher, and there lies the challenge for us. We have have to take advantage of our opportunity to manufacture some runs.”

The Panthers have .368 team batting average with 282 hits that has produced 236 runs. In each of the last two series, against Central (region championship) and LaFayette (state first round) , Sikes and sophomore Taylor Middlebrook have hit two home runs teach.

“We will have to limit our strikeouts and make them play defense,” Harper said. “We are very balanced in our lineup from top to bottom. We produced 18 runs against LaFayette. We are learning to take what other teams are giving us.”

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