The Red Devilettes (20-9) went a perfect 10-0 in Region 5-AA, including a pair of wins on Saturday to add region tournament champions to their accolades that already included the regular-season title. Now top-seeded and sixth-ranked Bowdon has even higher hopes as it hosts the first round of the Class AA playoffs today with a 2 p.m. doubleheader against fourth-seeded Washington-Wilkes.
"We've had a knack to win close games. We've been in several of them and international tie-breakers and stuff like that. The special thing that we've developed this year — we've always had talent — but we've got good chemistry. We work well together, we get along good and we play well together. We hit the ball pretty well up and down the lineup," Bowdon assistant coach Stephen Mitchell said. "We've just got a flair for the dramatic."
That's been built over years of playing together. Several of the six seniors on the roster have played since they were freshmen and now the team is truly coming together.
"We're all close. We're real good friends. Even if [Jacole Stephens] makes me mad, at the end of the day, we're still buddies," senior pitcher Trinity Strickland said.
Strickland has been a key to the Red Devilette success, along with fellow senior pitcher Madison Runyan. The pair have been the Red Devilettes one-two punch in the circle, with Strickland bringing the velocity, while Runyan changes speeds and puts movement on the ball.
"They're pretty special kids — both of them. They work extremely hard and they've worked extremely hard for four years. As freshmen, they both kind of took some lumps. But the hard work is paying off for them. They're intelligent, they execute a game plan well and they're talented," Mitchell said.
Up in the first round for the Red Devilettes is a Washington-Wilkes team that played better in their region than a fourth seed suggests. While the Bowdon coaching staff doesn't know too many specifics for the Lady Tigers (13-13), they know to expect a tough pair of games this afternoon.
"We'll talk to the teams from their region and get as much as we possibly can. They were sitting atop of their sub-region for most of the year. The other half of the sub-region finished first and second, [Washington-Wilkes] ended up getting upset and finishing fourth. We're expecting a pretty solid team to come down here," Mitchell said.
The players would just as rather prefer to not know much about their opponents, as makes it easier to focus on the things they can control themselves.
"We need to do what we do and not worry about anybody else," noted Bowdon senior shortstop Lyric Maze.
Bowdon has made itself very comfortable at home, not losing a game in 2012. Those numbers made earning the top seed in the region tournament and getting to play the championship game — and now No. 1 Heard County — at its place helped win and take the No. 1 seed into the tournament.
The Red Devilettes earned home-field advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, but they are focused on getting past the first test.
"It definitely helps, as far as planning and logistics, it makes your day a lot easier," Mitchell said. "We're excited to be at home. We're not even thinking about round two yet, but we're excited to be at home. Our community really came to the [region tournament] and supported our kids. There were a lot of people here Saturday, and I expect a lot of people to be here [today]."
If there is a time to be playing their best softball, the Red Devilettes have found it. Bowdon has seven straight wins — including two against ranked teams — and hasn't lost against a Class AA opponent since Aug. 21. Mitchell believes that is just one of Sanders' talents as a coach.
"There's one thing about Ralph Sanders' coached teams that I've always noticed. He always seems to get us peaking at the right time. Back in '08, we had a team that finished fifth in the regular season in the region and ended up finishing third in the state. He's got a knack for it. I guess it's experience and he's got a talent for it. The girls believe in what he's telling him and it comes together at the right time," Mitchell said.
And while there are several signature wins for the Red Devilettes this season — regular-season wins against Bremen and Heard County — the best may have come on Saturday. Just in time for a playoff run.
"Definitely Saturday. I think that was the first time we ever played as a whole team the entire season. Everybody worked together," Strickland said. "I think it's a good sign. We get to play at home, we're comfortable here. I think it gives us a better chance to go to Columbus this year."
And that's the goal — get through the first two rounds and earn a spot as one of the top eight teams in Class AA in the state in Columbus.
"I want to make it to Columbus," Stephens said. "I think we've got a good shot at it."