MILLEDGEVILLE — For a team that is filled with youth and inexperience, Stratford was calm and collected at the GISA Class AAA softball championship Tuesday.
With a starting lineup that consists of one junior, four sophomores, three freshmen and one eighth-grader, Stratford rolled through the double-elimination tournament undefeated and beat FPD 2-1 in the championship game.
Freshman pitcher Lexi Rouse threw a four-hitter, and Sloan Sibley had the game-winning hit as FPD lost in the finals for the third time in the past four years.
“This is a great group of girls,” Stratford head coach Jeff Treadway said. “They have great chemistry, and they have played a lot of softball this year. I think that we have practiced more this year than any other year I have coached softball, and sometimes I thought it was too much. But these girls worked hard every single day, and they deserved to win the state championship.”
It was evident that FPD would not go down without a fight. Trying to rebound from a loss to Stratford earlier in the day, FPD had to beat Stratford twice to win the title.
The game was scoreless with two outs in the bottom of the fifth when Stratford scored the only runs it needed. Ashley Kate McPherson singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch by FPD pitcher Jenna Byrd. Katie Smith, who was pinch-running for McPherson, later scored the first run on yet another wild pitch, and then Sibley drove in Maci Meeks, who had walked, with a double.
It was a tough-luck inning for Byrd, who was dominant for most of the game, despite pitching all four of FPD’s games during the day.
Treadway was pleased that it was McPherson and Sibley who sparked the offense.
“Ashley Kate has been the leader of this team and has meant so much to our chemistry,” he said. “It was good to see her be in the middle of our good inning. Sloan has been our best pitcher all year, and I probably overused her, but I was very proud of her coming up with what turned out to be the game-winner.”
Rouse, who handed FPD both losses in the tournament, gave all the credit to her teammates.
“We are so good defensively, that I feel like all I have to do is throw strikes,” said Rouse, who did not walk a batter. “They just made all the plays. It’s just an amazing feeling to win state when we have such a young team. My changeup and rise ball were the keys for me. I knew that if we could get a couple of runs we had a great chance to win.”
FPD coach Jimmy Turner said it was frustrating to make it to the final game again and not be able to come up with a win.
“I would have to say that yes, it is frustrating, but I would rather be in the championship game and lose than not be in it at all,” Turner said. “I just can’t say enough about the effort these girls gave. Jenna Byrd pitched her heart out. We gave everything we had, and we were just one hit away. We knew it would be a close game; it’s been that way all year. I give the credit to Stratford. They played a great game.”