Corey Cusick/ Times-Georgian
The Carrollton High School softball team clubbed its way back to Columbus on Wednesday evening.
Cranking out a combined 24 hits and 23 runs in a Class AAAAA second-round sweep of second-seeded Chamblee, the top-seeded Lady Trojans are back in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2014.
Powered by a pair of five-inning victories — 13-2 and 10-2 — Carrollton advances to face Wayne County next Thursday at 3 p.m. for the opening game inside Stadium Field at the South Commons Complex.
"Yeah, Ansley's the only one. (Savannah Cook and Hannah Horsley) were part of our JV team. So this will be the first trip for the entire team except Ansley," Carrollton head coach Lisa Phillips said. "But we've played some big games through the years and the region tournament for the last few years has been huge. We played in the stadium a couple of times at camp this summer, so we're excited about the opportunity to go down and compete."
The big inning proved to be the undoing of the Lady Bulldogs (22-7-1) in both games, as the Lady Trojans (28-1-1) broke Game 1 open with an eight-run fourth and used a seven-run third in the nightcap to pull away.
Swinging hot bats up and down the lineup, the Lady Trojans will be a dangerous ballclub for any opponent next week in Columbus.
"We're tough one through nine and I like our chances, really, with whoever's at the plate," Phillips said. "I don't feel like we're giving up an out anytime we get any of those girls up there. It's a good problem to have when you've got all nine that can swing it pretty good."
In Game 1, the Lady Trojans jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second behind a two-run, opposite-field blast from freshman phenom Scout Jennings.
Carrollton tacked on a three-spot in the third after Ansley Barge reached on a one-out single, Aslinn Spradlin drove her home on an RBI double and Montana Dallas ripped a two-run shot over the center-field fence to stretch the score to 5-0 through three.
Chamblee got a pair of runs back in the top of the fourth on a two-run homer by Rachel Lovejoy to pull within 5-2.
But Carrollton busted the game wide open in the home half of the fourth, sending 12 hitters to the plate and scoring eight runs on nine hits for the commanding 13-2 advantage.
In the frame, Cook hit her second home run of the postseason, this one a two-run shot, while Dallas and Carlie Monsour added RBI singles, Olivia Fannin ripped an RBI double, Jennings had an RBI single and Cook made it a four-RBI inning with a two-run single to cap off the scoring.
Fannin retired the Lady Bulldogs in the top of the fifth for the mercy-rule win, capping off a solid effort in the circle. The Lady Trojan hurler worked all five innings, allowing two runs — none earned — on two hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.
Offensively, Cook (3-for-3, HR, 4 RBI) led the barrage, while Jennings (2-for-3, 3 runs, HR, 3 RBI), Fannin (2-for-3, 2B, RBI), Dallas (2-for-3, 2 runs, HR, 3 RBI), Barge (2-for-3, 2 runs) and Kate Albertus (2-for-3, run) also had multiple-hit efforts in the 15-hit Lady Trojan attack.
Carrollton used the big inning to pull away again in the nightcap, overcoming an early 2-1 deficit by plating seven runs on six hits, a walk and an error in the top of the third for the 8-2 lead.
A two-run double off the bat of Jennings in the fourth pushed the margin to 10-2, which stood behind Spradlin in the circle.
The sophomore right-hander worked five innings to earn the win, yielding two runs — neither earned — on five hits with one walk, a hit batsman and four punchouts.
Having a pair of quality arms in the circle is another bonus for Carrollton entering the elite eight, and Phillips said it gives the coaching staff options to work with during the double-elimination format.
"They've done a good job of rotating through the year. We feel comfortable with whichever in the circle right now," Phillips said.
And now with exactly one week to prepare for the destination they've worked all year to reach, the Lady Trojans are going to enjoy Wednesday's sweep and get ready to take their talents to the Mecca for high school softball in the state of Georgia.
"It's such a great atmosphere for softball. All those people there for one common goal to try to win a state championship. Just the crowd and the excitement that surrounds all of that," Phillips said. "Of course, getting to play in the stadium the first game is going to be an added excitement for us. We're just excited about the opportunity and I'm excited for our girls and our program."