Whether it was Silver Bluff pitcher Jessie Clark striking out the side after a triple by Crescent's Cacy Crocker in Game 2 or catcher Stephanie Loudermilk diving on her knees to nab a foul ball in Game 1, the heart and soul of the Lady Bulldogs squad was its battery.
Sophomore pitcher and sophomore catcher. Heart and soul. Two-time Class AA champions.
It's not exactly the script Silver Bluff coach Eric Hofstetter had in mind when the season began.
"I really didn't expect them to do as well as they did," Hofstetter said moments after his squad beat Crescent 3-2 on Wednesday for the state title. "It'll be interesting to see them play for a couple more years. It'll be fun to see them mature as a group."
They've already been forced to mature. Trying to replace two stars - former pitcher Bridget Loudermilk and former catcher Jayme Durand - hasn't been easy.
"I wasn't about to try to replace Bridget," Clark said. "I mean, I had to replace her pitching-wise, but I was trying to go out there and pitch my way. Trying to replace her would have been crazy."
She came close, though. Last season, Bridget Loudermilk was 28-4 with a 0.28 ERA and 241 strikeouts in 196 innings. This year, Clark went 23-3 with a 0.50 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 167 2/3 innings.
"It was tough to follow in Bridget's shoes, but she did a great job," Hofstetter said. "But this is a totally different team. That's how we came into the season. We are not last year's team."
Nobody knew that better than Stephanie Loudermilk, last season's second baseman. In trying to replace Durand - who batted .473 with six home runs and 48 RBI last year - Loudermilk had to put on the face mask and chest protector for the first time in high school.
She didn't exactly look forward to it.
"I didn't get a choice," said Loudermilk, who hit .333 with 15 RBI and 10 stolen bases this season. "They told me I was catching. I hated it, but it got better."
It got much better Wednesday, when a wild pitch by Lady Tiger pitcher Ashlea Burdette sailed by catcher Miranda Terry in the bottom of the seventh and freshman pinch runner Maredith Guerrieri scored the title-winning run.
"We were trying to show everybody that it wasn't just Bridget and Jayme winning the championship last year," Loudermilk said. "We proved that this year."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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