WARNER ROBINS -- After the first five batters in the Lee County lineup reached base with hits off of starter Emily Hittinger, Houston County third baseman Hayley Tierce could feel the butterflies starting to churn in her stomach.
As Bears head coach Angela Crawford made her way to the mound, Tierce knew that her teams hopes of winning the first game in their best-of-three series Thursday would now fall on her.
After giving up one more hit that scored another run, Houston County got an outstanding defensive play from second baseman Keaton Thomas, who speared a hard line drive and threw to third for a double play, and then Tierce forced another groundout to end the inning with only four runs scoring.
After that, the Bears never looked back as they scored eight runs in their half of the first en route to an 18-6 win. Then they ended the series with a 3-1 win in the nightcap to advance to the GHSA Class AAAAA Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.
Keatons play was huge for us, said Crawford, who said a team goal at the beginning of the season was to make it to the Elite Eight. If she doesnt make that play, there is no telling how many runs they would have scored. She actually could have had a triple play, but she wasnt sure if she caught the ball in the air or not. Hayley has been the No. 2 pitcher all year and did a great job backing up Emily, but I am sure Emily will come back strong in the Elite Eight.
The bottom of the first inning in the first game showed off the Bears mixture of power and finesse at the plate. After Kelly Warner led off with a single, Crawford had Amber Coy sacrifice bunt Warner to second. Tierce then hit a two-run home run to left center to cut Lee Countys lead to two. After consecutive hits by Carson Carriker and Hittinger and a walk to Thomas, Taylor Brown hit a home run to left-center field that easily cleared the fence for a grand slam to give Houston County a lead that it never relinquished.
Meanwhile, Tierce was on the money, giving up only one run and two hits the rest of the way.
The second game was much tougher for the Bears, but they managed to score all three of their runs in the third inning. Autumn Ring led off with an infield single, followed by Warner, who reached on an error. Ring scored on a Coy infield hit, and Tierce continued her hot night at the plate with a double, scoring both Warner and Coy. That was all the runs Tierce needed as her defense, led by two nice plays by Brown in center field, kept her out of trouble for most of the game.
It is a great feeling to make it to the Elite Eight because none of us have ever made it that far, said Tierce, a junior who had seven RBI in the two games. I thought we played great defense in both games and the eight-run inning seemed to relax us for the rest of the night. We are excited that we get to keep playing.