Since the first of September, the Briarwood Academy Lady Buccaneers have been in the heart of their regional softball schedule.
Now, as the regular season winds down this week, the race for the region championship is heating up like the coals of a campfire.
Anne Wills slides safely into second base during Briarwood's 17-2 rout of Monroe Academy Tuesday.
Currently, the Lady Bucs are 8-3 in region competition and 11-6 overall, which puts them in a close-knit race with Brentwood Academy and Curtis Baptist.
The Lady Gators of Gatewood Academy lead the region, while Piedmont Academy of Monticello is in fifth place.
"Right now, everything's extremely close," said Briarwood Academy Head Coach Robert Waller. "There are five good teams for four spots for the state playoffs, and we must play our best to secure one of those spots."
The heart of the region competition for Briarwood began on Sept. 2 with a home game against Curtis Baptist. The Lady Bucs rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning to capture a key 2-1 victory over the Lady Crusaders.
Blythe Ansley, Ashley Pickard and Beth Gerlach were the leading hitters for Briarwood with one-for-three performances each. Pickard and Gerlach recorded the RBI's.
On Sept. 9, the Lady Buccaneers traveled to Forsyth and came home with a strong 11-0 win over Monroe Academy.
The Lady Bucs scored seven runs in the top of the first inning to break the game wide open early. They added three more runs in the third inning and finished the scoring in the fourth with one run.
Ansley was the leading batter for Briarwood with a two-for-two performance that included a double and a single.
She was followed by Anne Wills and Sara Nutial with one-for-two outings each that included singles. Ansley and Nutial recorded two RBI's each, with Wills driving in one run.
Caitlin Rodgers and Nutial combined for the win on the mound. Nutial recorded seven strikeouts in the game, as she struck out the side in the second inning.
"There were a lot of walks by Monroe Academy in this game. They are not a very strong team," Coach Waller said.
On a Sept. 13 road trip to Eatonton, the Lady Bucs lost to the Lady Gators of Gatewood Academy 4-3 in extra innings in a key region matchup. The Lady Bucs had tied the game at 3-3 in the seventh inning, which pushed the game to extra innings.
"We got beat 4-3 in this region game that we should have won," Coach Waller said. "We had the best individual players, but they had the best team. The best team won."
Cassie Pickrell was the leading hitter for the Lady Bucs with a two-for-three performance that included two singles. She was followed by Ali Dyson and Angela Kirkland with one-for-four outings each.
"We had a really great defense," Coach Waller said. "Of the 22 outs, we only had one strike out, so we didn't make any errors. Basically, we lost because we couldn't get a bunt down, and we made some boneheaded running mistakes."
On Sept. 14, the Lady Bucs got back on the winning track with a 5-2 win over the Lady Eagles of Brentwood Academy.
The Eagles jumped out to an early 2-1 lead, before Briarwood scored three unanswered runs in the third inning to take control of the game.
Pickard was the leading hitter for the Lady Bucs with a two-for-four performance that included a single and a double. Gerlach followed with a two-for-three outing that included a single and a triple. She also recorded three RBI's.
The Lady Bucs made another big step closer to the top of the region on Sept. 16 with a 15-0 win over the Lady Spartans of Edmund Burke Academy.
Gerlach was the leading hitter for Briarwood with two RBI's in each of the first two innings. Ansley slammed two singles for Briarwood.
Rodgers was the winning pitcher, as she recorded four strike outs.
Tuesday, the Lady Bucs hammered Monroe Academy 17-2 at Brairwood.
Today, the Lady Bucs will be in an important region matchup against Gatewood School at Briarwood.
Next week, the Lady Bucs will begin preparing for the GISA State Class AA Playoffs.
The first round will be played the weekend of October 9-10 in Dublin at the Southern Pines Regional Park.