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Season Wrap-Up: Lady Hounds finish third in state in 2019

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Jones County ended season at 26-12

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    Stephanie Youngblood steals second base. FILE PHOTO
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    Destin Howard brings pitching talent in addition to batting ability.
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    Megan Hamilton stretches for a throw at first base. FILE PHOTO
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    Maggie Glover dives to snag a sinking line drive in right field for the Lady Hounds in their first round series against Wayne County in Gray. FILE PHOTO

It wasn’t the trophy they wanted, but the Lad Hounds did bring home some hardware, finishing third in the GHSA Class 5A state tournament in Columbus last weekend for their best finish since winning the state title in 2010.

“I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” said coach Blake Lyons. “We had two good wins to get it started, but then we ran into some tough pitching and had trouble getting runners on base the last two game.

“It hurts now, but I guess you have to get here and experience it to learn But it was a good season.”

The Lady Hounds finished 26-12.

It was also Lyons’ last season as coach of the Lady Hounds. He completes 30 years as a teacher this year and has turned in his notice that he will retire.

He had informed schoo officials earlier that he likely would retire and others knew that it was probably his last season, but he did not want to make it official until afte the season.

“I wanted this year to be about them, not me,” Lyons said.

It would have been nice to finish with one more state title to go with the two others he has, but Lyons said he was more than satisfied with his final season.

“To get back to Columbus and win those first two games and place third was a great accomplishment for this team. It showed we were playing our best ball at the end, and you couldn’t ask for more.”

Lyons finishes with a career record of 505-211-2 in 20 years as a head softball coach. He was 316-160-2 in 13 seasons at Jones County. He won state titles in 1999 at Eagle’s Landing and 2010 at Jones County.

The Lady Hounds got off to a good start last Thursday afternoon with a 5-2 win over Whitewater in their first game in the Elite Eight. Mackenzie Kilpatrick, who homered and doubled, and Stephanie Youngblood each went 2-for-3 with two RBIs to lead the attack. And Savannah Williams and Destin Howard combined to keep Whitewater from having a big inning at the plate.

The Lady Hounds followed that with a dramatic 5-3 win over Buford in the second round on Friday morning, rallying from a 3-1 deficit with a grand slam homer by Howard in the bottom of the sixth inning. And Williams struck out 16 while holding Buford to one earned run on three hits to earn the completegame victory.

That win pitted Jones County against a familiar nemesis in the third round Friday night – region mate and two-time defending state champ Locust Grove.

And as has been the case so often over the last three years, the Lady Wildcats’ ace pitcher was dealing. Brooke McCubbin, who announced last week that she now intends to sign with Clemson after having been committed to Mississippi for a couple of years, pitched a one-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and no walks in a 4-0 victory that sent Jones County to the losers’ bracket.

That meant the Lady Hounds had to beat Harris County at noon Saturday to get back to the championship round, where they would have had to beat Locust Grove twice to win the double elimination tournament.

But Harris County, which eliminated Jones County with a first-round sweep in the state playoffs last season, again ended the Lady Hounds’ season with a 4-1 victory.

Zoe Willis wasn’t as dominating as McCubbin, but she was still pretty tough and was backed by good defense as the Lady Hounds were again limited to one hit. Willis walked none and struck out four.

Williams took the loss, though only one of Harris County’s four runs was earned. She gave up five hits and walked three while striking out four.

The game got off to a bad start for the Lady Hounds when Harris scored two runs in the first. The leadoff batter reached on an error and was moved to second with a sacrifice bunt. After Willis walked, a ground out to second moved the runners to second and third.

The first run scored when Hailee Palmer reached base when the third strike in the dirt got past the catcher. And another passed ball brought in the second.

The Lady Hounds appeared they would storm right back. Madison Bennett led off the bottom of the first with a triple and promptly scored on a sacrifice fly by Kloey Goins. But a line drive to left by Kilpatrick was caught and Willis was escaped with the lead.

Neither team could score through the next four innings. The Lady Hounds had some hard-hit balls, but they were either right at infielders or were long fly balls chased down by Harris County’s outfielders.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a little early on and then couldn’t get back. Their pitcher threw a good game. We got the bat on the ball some but hit it at them,” Lyons said

The Lady Tigers added single runs in the sixth and seventh.

In the sixth, Palmer singled with two outs. Lane Edgington reached on an error that allowed the run to score.

In the seventh, again with two outs, Sydney Stewart walked and went to third on a single by Catherine Barfield. Kaley Dowdy singled home the run.

Brooklyn Etheridge lined out to third in the sixth and Kilpatrick flied out to deep center in the seventh, but the Lady Hounds were unable to get anyone on base. They finished the game with Harris’ Willis retiring 21 consecutive batters following Bennett’s leadoff triple.

McCubbin was just as impressive for Locust Grove in Friday night’s game. She retired the first 20 batters in a row before Kilpatrick broke up the no-hitter bid with a two-out single in the seventh inning.

Howard was charged with the loss for the Lady Hounds. She struck out six but walked two and gave up eight hits and four runs in five innings.

The Lady Wildcats scored two runs in the third on a walk, a bunt single by Jamison Brochenbough and a two-out, two-run single by McCubbin.

A single, a walk and an RBI-single by Tagen Levao brought in the third run in the fourth, and the fourth run came on consecutive doubles by McCubbin and Kelly Kight in the fifth.

The Lady Hounds got their own pitching masterpiece on Friday morning from Williams.

She retired the first seven Buford batters before a dropped third strike allowed the first runner to reach with one out in the third. Williams struck out the next batter but Abbi Perkins reached on an error, and another error when Emi Hall singled to center allowed both runners to score.

That erased the 1-0 lead Jones County had taken in the first when Bennett reached on an error, stole second, was sacrificed to third by Goins and scored on a bunt single by Kilpatrick.

Buford added its third run in the fifth. Shamya Young reached on a bunt and stole second, and she was doubled home by Perkins.

But Williams settled down and retired the final eight batters she faced, striking out seven of them.

Jones County’s dramatic sixth-inning rally began with some small ball.

Bennett bunted for a single. Goins also bunted and reached on an error. Kilpatrick got on with an infield hit to load the bases, and Howard cleared them with a home run to center.

“It was a great game,” Lyons said the victory. “We get the bunts and little hit from Kilpatrick to load the bases, and then Destin unloaded on one. But the story the rest of the game was Savannah. She had an outing. Wow, she was good.”

The Lady Hounds opened the tournament on Thursday afternoon by never trailing in a close win over Whitewater.

Jones County struck first with a run in the second. Howard singled and was sacrificed to second by Makinsey Long. Youngblood drove her in with a single up the middle.

In the third, Bennett led off with a single, stole second and went to third on an error. Kilpatrick homered to left to score the two runs.

Whitewater broke through for a run in the fourth with a leadoff home run.

The Lady Wildcats added another run in the fifth and threatened to score a lot more. After giving up consecutive one-out singles, Williams was replaced by Howard. Howard walked the first batter she faced to load the bases. But then she got a force out at home on a grounder back to the circle for the second out. But Howard walked the next batter to force in a run before getting the third out with a strikeout.

Whitewater got runners on second and third with one out in the sixth, but Howard struck out the next two batters to strand them, then retired the side in order in the seventh.

The Lady Hounds, meanwhile, added two important insurance runs in the sixth. Kilpatrick led off with a double and moved to third on a ground out. Youngblood singled in Kilpatrick, then stole second and scored on a single by Megan Hamilton.

Locust Grove defeated Harris County 4-0 for its third consecutive title. The final three inning had to be played at Locust Grove Monday after heavy rains halted play in Columbus Saturday afternoon.