The Banks County Lady Leopards’ dream season rolls on, as the girls punched their ticket to Columbus and the Elite 8 with a two-game sweep of Calloway on Wednesday night.
your girls are on the way to elite 8!! 💙💪🏻
— Leopards Softball (@BanksSoftball) October 19, 2017
Following a close 3-1 win in the opener, the Lady Leopards could feel how close they were to making their preseason goal a reality, and cruised to an 8-0 win to secure their spot in the GHSA Class 2A Elite 8, which will take place from October 26-28.
It has already been determined that Banks County will take on Harlem in the opening game of the double-elimination bracket on Thursday at 3 p.m. on October 26. The Lady Leopards (24-8), Region 8-AA Champions, will be opposed by a Harlem Lady Bulldogs (23-6) team that also won their Region 4-AA Championship.
The Lady Bulldogs are a run-scoring juggernaut, outscoring opponents 263-62 (+201), while Banks County’s run differential is 186-91 (+95).
“It’s definitely an amazing feeling to be a part of the Elite 8,” exclaims junior pitcher Jaycie Bowen. “Especially since this time last year we were sitting at home. I know there are other teams in this state that would love to be in our position. Knowing that, I definitely think that keeps us on our feet, because we could easily be in their place.”
Bowen adds how the Lady Leopards stay on track: “Before every game we have a team devotion to help us stay focused and know the real reason we are here, and that is to play for God. We know as a team that without Him that we wouldn’t be in the place we are today, and that alone keeps us focused and calm. Coach Bowen always tells us that the ‘next game is the most important game’ no matter who we are playing.”
Senior Abbie Bailey echos those thoughts:
“Being a part of one of the eight teams left is a huge deal for us, especially since we’re the first team in Banks County history to make it into the Elite 8,” says Bailey. “We’ve fought hard all season and put in the work that put us where we are. We knew from the get go that we had enough talent to get here, it was just about doing it.”
Added Bailey, “At the beginning Coach Bowen started telling us: ‘You give 100-percent, 100-percent of the time’ and that’s just kind of what we’ve lived by all season.”
While it could be easy for some teams to lose focus after winning the first game against Calloway, Bailey explains how the team avoided falling into that trap.
“Before the first game, we had our regular devotion like we do before every game and we just really talked about how we had two games, not one. We knew Callaway wasn’t gonna just go out and hand it to us. We had to go in focused and ‘do all the little things’ like Coach Bowen always tells us. We’re a fighting team, we fight until the end, and that’s just what we did.”
While the girls are relishing the Elite 8 trip, they’re not done yet.
“Last night after our win, we celebrated,” says Bowen. “But as soon as we wake up we are focused on the next game, because that is the most important one. I’m proud of our team, it’s an amazing thing to play on a team where we are all family, every single one of these girls are my sisters.”
— abs (@AbbieBa10) October 19, 2017
Bailey added, “We celebrated our win just like any team would; Elite 8 is big and it’s nothing to take lightly. But yesterday is over, we’re in it now and we just have to start preparing for what’s next. We know that going into Columbus it’s gonna be a dog fight, it’s the top eight teams in [2A]. We’re gonna keep doing what we’re doing and playing how we know we can. We’ve all put a lot of time and hard work into the season and we’re just not ready for our ride to be over yet. I’ve been dreaming about this moment since freshman year, and it’s finally here so i’m just ready to go get after it with my girls.”
Bowen’s dad, coach Tony Bowen, is literally family for her, and she doesn’t hold back on giving him credit as well for the outstanding season.
“My dad loves everyone on this team,” says Bowen, “[and] treats every girl like his own. He puts in countless hours, comes in on Saturdays to let us get extra cuts in, comes on Sunday afternoons to get the fields ready, and even spends school nights getting our practice and scouting reports ready. All I can say is I love my coach, my supporter, and my dad. Without him pushing us and believing in us, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Junior Emma Whitfield and the Lady Indians (19-8) are forced to a game three in their series against Chapel Hill after splitting two games on Wednesday. The girls won the opener 3-1, but dropped the second game 5-3, meaning the teams play a win-or-go home elimination game on Thursday.
Stephens County is looking for a second straight trip to the Elite 8 after getting to Columbus last year for the first time in school history. As expected, Stephens’ region 8-AAAA features three teams looking to get in to the Elite 8, as Madison County has already punched its ticket, and Jefferson playing in a game three as well on Thursday.
After a first round bye, coach CJ Wilkes and senior Harlee Ingram in the GHSA Class 1A Sweet 16 fell in successive games to Trion, falling 5-4 and 14-6 on Wednesday. The Lady Tigers finish the season 20-7 overall after winning the region 8-A title and once being ranked the #5 team in the state in 1A softball.