For a team that held the top ranking in Class AAAA, with a seven-year reign as region champions, you might think the Greenbrier High School softball squad had nothing to prove in last week's Region 3-AAAA tournament.
Despite their success in fastpitch, the Lady Wolfpack was a much-maligned squad this season.
In fact, Greenbrier did drop a region game in 2003, and that 1-0 loss to Cross Creek was the first setback for the Lady Pack in region play in nearly three years.
So much for Greenbrier's supposed vulnerability. The Lady Pack ran the tables at Diamond Lakes Regional Park, and capped the region tournament with two shutout victories on Friday to earn an eighth-straight region title in eight seasons of existence.
Members of the Greenbrier High School softball team flash eight fingers each Friday to signify the number of consecutive region titles the squad has won.
Photo by Mike Howell
"I've been here for half of them and it took a lot of hard work," Lady Pack senior Ashlee LaFontaine said. "Some people didn't expect us to be as strong (this season), but we came out here and showed them we're as strong as we've ever been."
Greenbrier, Lakeside, Cross Creek and Jones County advanced to Friday's final four, and when the dust settled, Columbia County held the top two spots.
The Lady Pack beat Cross Creek 2-0 in a winner's bracket game, and Lakeside outlasted Jones County 1-0 in loser's bracket action. Lakeside then blanked Cross Creek 2-0 to set up an all-Columbia County final.
The Lady Panthers needed to beat Greenbrier twice to take the region title, but Lady Pack pitcher Kristan Glover shut down Lakeside during the clinching 6-0 win.
LaFontaine paced Greenbrier at the plate with a 3-for-3 outing in the finals, including a double and a run-scoring sacrifice fly. She wasn't alone, though - every Greenbrier batter reached base at least once, with Glover, Tiffany Blackburn, Brittany Leverett, Kristi Nichols, Kayla Thurmond, Laura Tracy and Natalie Pippin each recording a base hit apiece.
"I think everybody had their head in the game," Glover said. "We had our mind set on winning the region. We worked hard, and when you work hard, that's what happens."
Considering Lakeside (25-8 record) lost to Burke County in the region opener, and was on the verge of being knocked out of the double-elimination tournament, the Lady Panthers weren't too sad about being No. 2.
"I'm really proud of how they played. I couldn't ask for anything more," Lakeside coach Jay Matthews said.
Lakeside's freshmen pitchers Kaylee Hutchins and Andria Batchelor recorded back-to-back shutouts Friday to give the Lady Panthers a No. 2 seed in the Class AAAA state sectionals this Friday and Saturday at Diamond Lakes.
Greenbrier (30-3) enters the state sectionals as a top seed, which is nothing new. But in 2003, earning an eighth-straight region championship was more than just icing on the cake.
"I think the region, from top to bottom, was the toughest it's ever been," Greenbrier coach Garrett Black said. "That's why this was special, especially because we dropped some games early on and people were starting to say Greenbrier's run is over. We took a lot of pride in winning No. 8. It means something to the players."
Greenbrier and Lakeside now turn their attention to the Class AAAA sectionals. The aim will be to survive the double-elimination event and advance to the state finals the following weekend in Columbus.
In the sectionals at Diamond Lakes, Region 3-AAAA will start out with matchups against teams in Region 4-AAAA, which features solid fastpitch programs from Atlanta.
"We have to win three or four games over two days, and I like our chances," Matthews said. "My girls really feel like they can play with any team in the state."
The Lady Wolfpack has built some steam for the sectionals. Along with the region title, Greenbrier has won two other prestigious tournaments in 2003.
"We're getting good pitching and defense right now," Black said. "That's our strength, and we'll keep riding it as long as we can."
Thanks to error-free ball last Friday, Greenbrier increased its win streak to 22 games, which ties a team record.
Advancing to the top of the Class AAAA poll for the first time in school history will give Greenbrier some extra motivation for the upcoming playoffs.
"It really does feel good to be No. 1. It makes us realize we want to stay there," Glover said. "So far this year we've gotten some breaks, and hopefully they'll keep falling our way. If they do, there's no telling what will happen."
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