MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- A great season of softball is over for the Briarwood Academy Lady Buccaneers.
But it wasn't like they earned nothing for their efforts in attempting to bring back the school's first state championship trophy in the sport. Even though they didn't win a state crown, they still are regarded as one of the best softball teams in Georgia private schools.
The Lady Buccaneers finished runners-up in the Georgia Independent Schools Association Class A Girls' Softball State Playoffs played at the Walter B. Williams, Jr. Park in Milledgeville last Tuesday. The state playoffs had to be postponed from the weekend before because of rain.
"I'm so proud of these girls," said Briarwood Academy head coach Hannah Demore immediately after her team fell to Terrell Academy's Lady Eagles 5-4 in extra innings of what turned out to be the championship game.
Had Briarwood won that game, they would have had to play Terrell Academy again since they had not lost a game in the double-elimination tournament.
"We're definitely getting a step closer to winning a state championship," coach Demore said.
In her first season at Briarwood Academy last year, coach Demore guided the Lady Buccaneers to a third-place finish.
Through the years, several Briarwood teams, under the leadership of coach Robert Waller, finished runners-up in the state playoffs. Coach Demore's junior and senior years at Briarwood are examples of two of those times.
And she admitted it's just as tough coming up short as a coach as it was when she was a player.
"I know how bad they feel," said coach Demore, noting she came up short winning a state championship basketball title in her junior and senior years, too. "This is the first time I've come up short as a coach and I hope it's the last time. I hope we can make it back to the state playoffs and win state."
Coach Demore said she couldn't be more proud of her players.
"They played so well," she said. "I'm just really, really proud of all of them."
It marked the second time in the tournament that Briarwood Academy had to play Terrell Academy -- now the state champions for the third time since 2005. In the first game of the tournament, which was played on a cold, rainy day, the Lady Buccaneers lost 8-7.
When the tournament resumed last Tuesday, Briarwood defeated two other teams -- Thomas Jefferson Academy of Louisville and David Emanuel Academy -- before they got another crack at Terrell Academy.
The Lady Buccaneers defeated the Thomas Jefferson Academy Lady Jaguars 9-3 -- thus eliminating them from the state playoffs. It was the first time in four games this season that Briarwood had beaten one of their biggest rivals.
Briarwood Academy wasted no time jumping on TJA for four runs on four hits in the top of the first inning. The hits came off the bats of Maria Celeste Johnson, Taylor Echols, Erin Phelps and Rachel Coxwell. The biggest hit was delivered by Echols, the senior first baseman, who smashed a two-run double into right field.
In the second inning, Briarwood got hits from senior center fielder Lizzie Keen and left fielder Emily Henderson, a double, but weren't able to produce any runs.
Such wasn't the case in the sixth and seventh innings, though, when Briarwood tallied five runs. During that time, hits came from Keen, senior pitcher Gerry Hall and Coxwell, who hit a two-run double in the last inning.
Hall was the winning pitcher, going the distance.
Briarwood, meanwhile, defeated David Emanuel Academy 7-4 in the third game of the tournament, which set the stage for the clash with Terrell Academy.
In the David Emanuel game, coach Demore decided to go with 13-year-old Tiffany Pate, an eighth-grader, as the pitcher.
Pate came through with flying colors, allowing just four runs on 10 hits, while striking out six batters and walking just one.
"It feels great to have helped the team win a big game," said Pate, noting her fastball, curve ball and change-up pitches were all effective against DEA batters. She even aided her own cause with an RBI single in the sixth inning.
Offensively, Briarwood Academy got three big hits from Echols in that game, including a double in the second inning. Other players collecting hits included: Phelps, the senior catcher who caught all three games last Tuesday, as well as Coxwell and Keen.
The championship game, meanwhile, couldn't have been any more exciting than it turned out.
Terrell Academy went up 2-0 before Briarwood struck for their first run in the top of the sixth to make it a 2-1 affair.
And in the seventh, the Lady Bucs tied the game at 2-2 -- Coxwell getting the honors and scoring after reaching on an errant throw by the second baseman. Johnson drove her home with a RBI single that eventually sent the game into an extra inning.
The Lady Bucs struck for a pair of runs in the eighth, but it wasn't enough to turn back Terrell Academy, who came right back with three runs.