And while the loss may hurt for a few days, it certainly doesn’t take away all that the Lady Eagles accomplished this season in reaching the state playoffs for the first time since 2005 and being one of the last schools across all classifications still standing on the final day of the season.
“Mt. Zion’s never had this. We want to get higher next year. It’s been a great experience. They’ve loved it. This taste is going to make them realize that, hey, we want to be there again next year,” Mt. Zion coach Millie Grimes said.
And with no seniors on the squad, the Lady Eagles are primed to improve on their 22-14, third-place campaign next fall.
Grimes said that’s part of the reason the team was still upbeat on Saturday despite the setback, as it now understands it has what it takes to compete on the big stage. The veteran coach is hopeful this experience will make her squad even hungrier for a return trip next season.
“Usually, a lot of times when that last game of the season comes, it’s a real tear-jerker because you’re losing some of the core and some of the leaders. This year it hurts, but they realize that we should have everybody back and hopefully we just grow a little bit more and we get to this spot and even further next year,” Grimes said.
Mt. Zion dug itself in an early 3-0 hole against the top-ranked Lady Trojans (35-3) — which went on to sweep Georgia Military later Saturday to earn their third straight Class A state championship — before Lady Eagle catcher Ashley Smith delivered a bomb to straight-center to pull back within 3-1 in the bottom half of the first.
Gordon Lee’s bats stayed hot, though, tacking on two more runs in the second and two more in the third to go up 7-1. The Lady Trojans pushed the score to 9-1 in the top of the fifth, which could have forced the mercy-rule ending, but Mt. Zion didn’t go down quietly in the bottom of the frame.
Freshman Destiny Traylor started the rally with a leadoff single and went to second on a sacrifice fly from Brittney Buice. With two outs, Corrssia Perry delivered an RBI single for Mt. Zion’s second run of the game, which extended it the full seven.
The Lady Eagles loaded the bases after Lexi Ackles reached on an error and Jordan Crews walked, but Gordon Lee was able to get out of the jam on a hard grounder to third base.
Mt. Zion got a leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh from Madison Barrow, but she was left stranded on the bag to end the game.
Grimes was glad to see her ball club continue to fight and make it a seven-inning affair after falling behind early to the perennial powerhouse. She noted that her team leaves Columbus with its head held high.
“We’re still smiling. They played hard. We came in a little uptight, I think, feeling a little bit of the pressure. We didn’t make some of the plays that we have and we didn’t hit it as well, but we battled back in there and put a little pressure on them. We got the bases loaded. [Friday night and Saturday], we got kind of a jinx on us with two outs. We just couldn’t get that last out,” Grimes said.
Jayde Bradley, Madison Logan and Ackles all worked in the circle Saturday, while Smith, Traylor, Perry and Barrow recorded hits offensively.
“I’m so extremely proud of them for battling and the progress that we’ve made this year. We’ve gotten here, so next year we know that we’ve got to put that goal even higher,” Grimes said.