Aug. 6—VALDOSTA — The Lowndes high softball team scored five of its 11 runs in the second inning as they opened the 2022 season with an 11-3 run rule win over Berrien Friday evening.
The Vikings (1-0) went ahead 8-0 through four innings before the Rebels found a spark of momentum in the top of the fifth.
"It's Opening Day and it's always good to get a win," Lowndes head coach Stewart Thomas said. "They're a solid team. They do the little things right. They're well-coached. When you come out and get a victory against a team like that, it's always nice and we did. We hit the ball well, pitched well in the circle and when we do that, we're tough to beat. I'm excited about starting the season, excited about this group. This group works extremely hard. They're in it for each other and I'm excited to see what the season holds for this team."
An RBI single by Berrien's Wade made it 8-1. Two batters later, an RBI by Tisby cut the deficit to 8-2 for the visitors. Following a base hit by Mathis, Castleberry crushed an RBI double to bring Jordan Styles in to score for the Rebels' third run of the inning. The spurt came to an end as Ray bunted out to Lowndes pitcher Camden Anders for the final out of the inning.
Solid pitching by Berrien kept the Vikings quiet in the bottom half of the inning as Mathis struck out Kaci Demps, got Madison VanAllen to fly out and struck out Channing Smith looking to get out of the fifth.
VanAllen came in to relieve Anders and promptly gave up a base hit to center by Harris. The hit didn't spark another run for the Rebels, however, as VanAllen struck out Styles and Cersey swinging then got Wade to pop out to breeze through the top of the sixth.
The Vikings put the finishing touches on the game with a pair of base hits by Dallas Brooks and Abby Rykard followed by RBIs by Hallie Benefield and Addison Waring to make it 10-3. On the game-clinching at bat, Ellie Shaw iced the game on an RBI single of her own for the 11-3 win.
For the game, the Vikings finished with 17 hits and 11 RBIs led by Van Allen's 3-for-4 output at the plate with two RBIs. Brooks also went 3-for-4 with two RBIs while Waring went a perfect 3-for-3 with a team-high three RBIs. Rykard and Anders had two hits each, while Smith, Shaw, Demps and Baylie Jenkinson recorded a hit apiece in the win.
Anders earned her first win in a Viking uniform on Friday, going five innings and allowing nine hits and two earned runs with six strikeouts on the day. Van Allen gave up a hit, but had two strikeouts in an inning of relief. Mathis picked up the loss for the Rebels in 5 1/3 innings and 112 pitches.
"Both of them are just competitors," Thomas said of his two pitchers. "They hate losing, they hate getting hit and they love being in the circle and I think our entire team feeds off that. They're gonna miss bats, but they're just competitors. They throw strikes, they do hit bats — we've got to make plays behind them and we did tonight."
The Vikings went 16-10 last season with an 8-4 mark in Region 1-7A for a second-place finish behind 10-2 Colquitt County. The team went into the state playoffs on a four-game winning streak after defeating Berrien, Camden and Ware County to close out the regular season, but lost to Hillgrove 6-4 and 7-4 in the first round of the playoffs.
This season, Thomas and the Vikings hope to perform better overall, especially in the region.
"If you ask anybody around here, (the expectation is) win every ballgame. That's just Lowndes," Thomas said. "You always want to be competitive in the region. The expectation is to win region. We came up a little short last year and I think these kids have a drive to get back on top. They're pushing for it. That's always our first goal — to win region, to be a No. 1 seed and host the playoffs. We've got a really tough region. Every day, starting tomorrow, we've got to get better and work to where we're hitting our stride come region play."
PLAY OF THE GAME
Trailing 7-0 with two on and two outs in the bottom of the third inning, Channing Smith blasted a ball to deep center field. Sprinting back to her right, Jordan Styles dove to make an incredible catch to rob Smith of the extra base hit for the third out to end the inning — drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd and love from her teammates on the way to the dugout.
Following the lead of the Lowndes baseball team, Lowndes softball cut the ribbon on its new turf at Morris Coats Field. New Lowndes County Schools Superintendent Dr. J. Shawn Haralson threw out the first pitch on Friday.
Lowndes hosts Forsyth Central Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.
Berrien travels to face Cairo Thursday, Aug. 11 at 6 p.m.
Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.