– The North Georgia softball team took their first step
toward claiming back-to-back Peach Belt Conference regular season
championships on Saturday afternoon, sweeping Francis Marion 6-0
and 12-8 to open league play.
The Saints, ranked No. 1 in the latest NFCA Division II top 25, improve to 15-0 on the season, while starting Peach Belt Conference play at 2-0 on the year. Francis Marion is swept for the second time this season in league play, falling to 11-7 overall on the year, and 3-5 in conference action.
In game one, it was all about the long ball as senior Leslee Smith put the offense on her back, blasting a pair of two run home runs to give the Saints a 4-0 lead. Smith launched the first homer in the opening frame with two outs, plating Courtney McGuire who reached on a two-out hit, giving North Georgia an early 2-0 lead.
The fourth inning saw much of the same as McGuire led off the inning with a single up the middle and Smith followed with another home run, a two-run shot to center field, her third blast of the year to put the Saints up 4-0.
North Georgia added single runs in the fifth and seventh innings as McGuire drove in a run with a single, her third hit of the day, while Jessica Skeels came off the bench in the Saints’ final at-bat and crushed her first home run of the year, a solo shot to left center to cap the scoring in the opener and give the Saints a 6-0 victory over the Patriots.
Sarah Phillips was nearly unhittable in the win, going the distance and allowing just two hits, while striking out a season-high 10 batters. She sported a no-hitter until the fifth inning when Cea Knox recorded a single for the Patriots first hit of the game, only to be stranded at second to end the inning.
In game two, both teams provided plenty of offense as 19 combined hits brought 20 runs home to score, but it was North Georgia who jumped out to an eight-run fourth inning lead.
The Saints scored their first three runs of the game courtesy of the long ball as Hilary Cox led off the second inning with a home run to left center, and Laura Voyles followed in the third inning with a two-run blast to left field, giving the Saints a 3-1 lead. Francis Marion would tie the game at a run apiece in the last of the second on an RBI single from Knox, but Voyles’ two-run shot in the third put North Georgia right back in the lead.
In fourth inning, North Georgia broke the game open with six runs on just three hits and two Patriot miscues. Voyles and Lauren Dykes provided back-to-back RBI singles in the inning, while McGuire lifted a sacrifice fly to center field to score a run, and Smith Manufactured another run with a groundout as part of the six-run frame.
Francis Marion answered in the bottom of the fourth with a pair of runs as Meghan Heiser guided a double to right center, bringing Jessica Hogan and Jessica Birchmeier home to cut the North Georgia lead six at 9-3.
Voyles continued her three-hit game in the fifth inning with a single up the middle to plate two more runs as part of a three-run frame to give the Saints a nine-run lead at 12-3.
The Patriots added five runs down the stretch with an Ashley Jaramillo two-run homer in the fifth and a double by Birchmeier in the seventh to bring home two more runs, but the Saints held on for the 12-8 victory and doubleheader sweep over Francis Marion.
Phillips (11-0) picked up the game two victory in 5.0 innings of work, allowing four hits and three runs, one earned, while striking out a pair. Kristen Connelly tossed 2.0 innings, giving up five hits and five earned runs while walking one.
Knox (2-3) suffered the loss in the nightcap, lasting 4.0 innings and allowing nine runs on eight hits, while adding two walks and two strikeouts.
North Georgia returns to action on Sunday afternoon, traveling to UNC Pembroke for another Peach Belt Conference showdown. First pitch for the doubleheader against the Braves is set for 1:00 p.m. at LRA Softball Field.