PETTICOAT JUNCTION, S.C. - Just the other day, Silver Bluff softball coach Eric Hofstetter was watching film from last year's state championship series with Crescent.
In it, he saw Deidre Simmons' speed and power.
What he didn't see, though, was what made a difference Friday as the Lady Bulldogs clinched their second-straight Class AA Lower State championship with a 3-0 victory against Andrews.
Last season, Simmons lacked confidence and the ability to slap the ball for hits. Against the Lady Jackets on Friday, she showed him the difference a year can make.
The junior center fielder went 3-for-4 with an RBI and run scored, and Silver Bluff got another dominant performance from pitcher Bridget Loudermilk to earn the right to play for its first softball state championship next weekend.
Simmons' new-found abilities, Hofstetter said, certainly will aid the Lady Bulldogs' cause.
"She has really improved since last year," said Hofstetter, whose team improved to 29-3. "She can hit for power, and what makes her stand out is her natural ability to bat left-handed and her speed. She's more confident, and she can slap the ball for hits. She really makes the other team's defense more defensive, because you don't ever know what's coming with her."
Simmons made her presence felt in the bottom of the third. With one out, she bunted for a single, stole second base, forced an error from Andrews shortstop Ashley Montgomery on a fielder's choice and scored on a bases-loaded walk.
In the sixth inning, after Kellie Hair reached on an infield single in the sixth, Simmons hit an RBI double to help put the Lady Jackets (30-3) away.
"We just came out and played our game," Simmons said. "I guess we just wanted it more ... than they did."
Plus, the Lady Bulldogs had Loudermilk (26-3), who struck out five batters.
The senior pitcher got into a little trouble in the seventh. After Kim Montgomery broke up Loudermilk's no-hitter with a single, Loudermilk got Ashley Morris to ground out for the first out.
After a walk to Ashley Montgomery, Loudermilk coaxed catcher Valerie Strong into a game-ending line-drive double play.
"We hit the ball real well, and Bridget really has been popping the ball (on the mound)," Hofstetter said. "We left a lot of runners on base, so that's a concern. But we didn't commit any errors, and that's big for us."
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