Entering Thursday, it had been a tad shy of five months since the most recent high school athletic events were contested in Bartow County due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The wait finally came to an end, …
Entering Thursday, it had been a tad shy of five months since the most recent high school athletic events were contested in Bartow County due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The wait finally came to an end, but not before — in typical 2020 fashion — a lightning delay pushed back the start of the Adairsville-Model softball game. While the extra delay at the beginning wasn't welcomed, the two extra innings at the end were widely celebrated, particularly by the host Tigers — who earned a 2-1, walk-off victory.
"It was a fun game," Adairsville head coach Amanda Nelson said. "It was more fun because we came out on top, but it was a great game. Man, we want to play softball, so if we end up playing nine innings, we're all for it."
The thrilling game actually ended in pretty inauspicious fashion.
Megan Gregory, who had struck out in her two previous plate appearances, flared a ball out to shallow right field. The Model outfielder was under the ball in plenty of time, but it squirted out of her glove. With two outs, Adairsville's Chloe Souders was running on contact and scored from second base easily to win the team's season opener.
"She gives us a chance," Nelson said of Gregory's at-bat. "That's what we tell the girls. We don't want to strike out. Just give ourselves a chance, and she absolutely did that. It worked."
The somewhat fortunate conclusion bailed out some questionable base-running by the Tigers. Then again, both teams showed early season inexperience in that regard. Both teams had a runner called out for not tagging up properly on caught fly balls. Each also had a runner thrown out at home, including Adairsville's with no outs in the ninth inning.
Other than that, both teams didn't show any ill effects from an unusual offseason, probably because several players on each team undoubtedly compete for travel teams that have been playing for at least a few weeks.
As such, the pitching from both sides was lights out.
Model's Claire Chamberlain went the distance for a hard-luck loss. She also drove in her team's only run.
The Tigers started Taylor Rhoades in the circle, and she pitched five solid frames, working around some hard contact to limit the Blue Devils to one run. Victoria O'Neal tossed four scoreless innings to earn the victory, striking out eight in her standout performance.
"Taylor started today, and she did a great job," Nelson said in discussing her senior pitchers. "She had her defense working behind her. They were coming through [the batting order] for the third time. We switched it up and put in Vic. She came in and handled herself very well coming in in relief."
Likewise, both defenses were solid, aside from a trio of dropped fly balls from Model outfielders.
Adairsville is starting three freshmen — shortstop Gabi Beccera, right fielder McKenzie Pullam and center fielder Alissa Winters — and each one made a stellar catch in the early innings. Winters also started the relay that cut down a Blue Devils runner at home in the fifth inning to momentarily keep the Tigers ahead 1-0 before Chamberlain's RBI single.
"Our defense was sound, and they looked great," Nelson said. "... They're moving together in unison, aware of where the plays are. We're making good throws, so we can confidently throw it around to try to get runners out.
"Our defense looks good, so we're working on getting our hitting up to par."
As Nelson mentioned, the Adairsville hitting wasn't outstanding across the board. Makayla Wade had a pair of hits out of the No. 9 spot in the order. O'Neal had a pair of doubles, and the Gordon State commit also reached twice on dropped fly balls.
The biggest (and loudest) hit of the night came in the first inning off the bat of Sadye Johnson. The star senior ripped the first pitch she saw in her final season with the Tigers well over the fence, albeit just inside the left-field foul pole.
"I knew it was fair," Nelson said. "They said it was foul over in the [Model] fans, which of course, but from my view, it was fair."
She added, "How fun for [Johnson] and exciting for our team. We want to add to what she's going to do offensively for us. We don't want to just depend on her."
In a season contested in the midst of a pandemic, there are different protocols than normal for home runs like the one launched by Johnson. She wasn't greeted at home plate by her teammates like she would have been in the past. Even retrieval of the home-run ball must be left to the opposing team, because each side is responsible for their own set of game balls.
Even the end of the game was a reminder of the current environment, as the teams didn't shake hands afterwards. Instead, they waved, shouted 'Good game!' from across the field and headed off for a socially distant postgame speech.
"We'll make the best of it," Nelson said. "We're appreciative that GHSA has made these accommodations to allow us to be out here."
Despite the game being delayed an hour at the beginning and extending a couple of extra frames at the end, plus all the restrictions in between, Nelson said her players are just relishing the fact that they even get to play at all.
"The girls are excited to be out here," she said. "... They are happy to be out here, happy to be together and just thankful to be playing the game."