Three Thomson seniors closed their high school softball careers Wednesday, as the Lady Bulldogs dropped a doubleheader at Locust Grove in the state playoffs.
Shortstop Brea Boutwell slugged a solo homer in the opening game, a 4-3 loss.
Centerfielder Khadeja Fanning made a diving catch to suppress a Lady Wildcats charge in the top of the seventh inning of Game 2.
Pitcher Brooke Herkel slammed a solo home run over the left-center fence to lead off the bottom of the seventh in that 5-4 loss.
Fanning had to make an instant decision when she ran to her left with one out and no one on. The Wildcats bench reacted when Fanning went for the ball instead of taking it on the hop. "I was going for it all the way," she said later. That catch took on more importance when the third batter reached first on a walk. A hit to third base and an arrow to second ended the Wildcats' last at-bat.
Thomson had led 3-2 going into the fifth inning. Then a hurried throw to first ended up in the dugout, sending the batter to second. A sacrifice bunt to third sent a runner to third. Another hit forced the Thomson third baseman to hold the runner to third before delivering a throw that pulled the first baseman off the bag. A hit to center scored one run, knotting the score at 3-3, and left runners on first and second. A bobble behind the plate let both runners advance, and a walk filled the bases. A fly to center field scored two, giving the Wildcats all the runs they would need. A pop-up advanced the runners, and a grounder to third ended the top half of the inning.
Thomson stranded two runners in the bottom of the fifth and one in the seventh, but could not get the crucial fifth run.
Herkel stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh and watched one ball miss the plate before she unloaded on the second pitch, to close the gap to 5-4. But a strikeout, a grounder to shortstop and a bouncer back to the pitcher ended the game.
Locust Grove, the Region 4A champions, also got to play the championship round at home. The team would be host to Perry High School for two games on Wednesday. A third game, if necessary, would be played today.
Thomson community coach Ty Poss said one bad inning decided the outcome of each game. He said one more regular-season victory might have given the team an easier path into the state tourney. "We went farther than anyone expected us to go," he said.
"You can't judge a season by two tough innings," said THS Principal Cecil Strong. "McDuffie County should be proud of these young ladies."
He said the team represented the community well.
Strong said he made the 100-plus mile trip to Locust Grove as he would for any team representing Thomson High School. "These are our girls. I'm gonna be there," he said.
"I would love to have one more game, but that's the way things are."
Boutwell said she plans to be in uniform again in the spring, playing soccer. She is undecided about a college choice.
Fanning said she is leaning toward Augusta State next fall. Herkel said she might try tennis in the spring. She said she will sign a college letter of intent in November.