SNELLVILLE — North Forsyth’s players knew flawless softball was required for them to upset the top-ranked team in Georgia’s largest classification.
The Raiders’ pitching was solid against GACA Coaches’ Poll No. 1 Brookwood. North hit several times to the deepest parts of the Broncos’ field.
But a bevy of fielding mistakes were the Raiders’ undoing in 8-1 and 9-1 losses in the second round of the state tournament. North saw one of the better seasons in school history come to a cold, frustrating finish.
“We were prepared coming in,” Raiders coach Bud Henderson said. “It was just one error on top of another. … You expect perfection, but you very seldom get it.”
Only two of the Broncos’ 17 runs were earned. The Raiders (17-11) committed an error in every inning save for two, with 11 coming in game one and six in game two.
The second contest of the best-of-three series lasted five innings after Brookwood (34-5) scored six runs (five unearned) in the top of the fifth.
“It was a total team effort for all of us,” said catcher Lauren Shaw. “Everyone made a mistake, but everyone did something … to try and pick things up.”
It was the last game in Raiders black and silver for Shaw and three other seniors. Shaw, Shelby Johnson, Nina Rodriguez and Morgan Wade all played a role in leading North to its first Class AAAAA playoffs series victory and a Region 6 runner-up finish.
“There’s only one team that finishes the season on a winning note,” Henderson said. “These girls have brought the program this far, and we’ve had a successful season and I’m proud of them for all their accomplishments.”
Henderson also credited assistants Becky Cahill, Travis Jarard, Katie Cann and Sara Bagley.
“They’ve worked just as hard or probably harder than I have,” Henderson said.
Sophomore hurlers Andrea Coleman and Sydney Turner were the brightest spots on a dark night for North. Both hit solo home runs to left field.
Coleman pitched all six innings of game one, not allowing an earned run on seven hits. While Brookwood tagged Turner for 10 hits in game two, she located well and induced plenty of opportunities for North to put innings away.
Maybe it was the 40-degree windchill. It could’ve been the hostile Broncos crowd. Perhaps North’s players were “too pumped up,” as Shaw put it. Whatever the reason, the support wasn’t present for Coleman and Turner, especially when they were inside the pitchers’ circle.
“We pitched well enough to win both games,” Henderson said. “[Brookwood] has some great hitters and we knew that coming in, and we kind of kept them at bay, which I was very proud of. But you’ve got to be able to field behind your pitchers.”
The Raiders couldn’t have asked for a better start than Coleman’s shot over the left-center wall to lead off the series. North led 1-0 until Broncos catcher Mandy Blackwell’s RBI single to left tied the game in the third.
Things unraveled on North an inning later.
Left fielder Taiylor Rinehart (G1: 3-for-4, R) led off the fourth with a single up the middle and scored on successive sacrifice bunts by Ambree Muller, Emily Brantley and Daniella Ulloa. Muller reached first safely when first baseman Savannah Chapman mishandled Shaw’s throw.
Chapman then dropped a routine popup by Susan Norris in front of first base that would’ve ended the inning. Jenny Blackwell followed up with a double down the right-field line, moving Norris to third.
Playing third base, Turner scooped up a bunt by Megan Litumbe, but Chapman juggled Turner’s throw. Norris and Jenny Blackwell both scored on the play, giving the Broncos a 5-1 advantage.
Chapman’s difficult night included a shoulder injury that forced her out of the game.
“Shes’ very resilient,” Henderson said of Chapman. “She’ll bounce back.”
Two Coleman throwing errors to first spotted Brookwood two fifth-inning runs. Litumbe scored in the sixth after reaching second on an errant Turner throw and coming home on a dropped line drive by Jenna Zirlott in right field.
Pitcher Brandi Jones (6 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 7 H, 5 K) went 2-for-3 from the plate, and the Raiders left five runners in scoring position. Chapman went 2-for-3 with a double and a single.
A fresh game two start didn’t help North. Grounders through the legs of third baseman Zirlott and second baseman Wade allowed the first two Brookwood batters to reach, and Litumbe, Mandy Blackwell (G2: 2-for-3, 2 RBI, 2 R) and Brantley each produced an RBI single en route to a 3-0 lead after half an inning.
Turner settled down the next two innings and got a run back when her fourth-inning line drive off Rachel Hill (5 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, BB, 4 K) left the yard, barely staying fair. But that would prove to be the last highlight of North’s 2011 campaign.
Wade botched a popup in the decisive fifth inning, and Blackwell, Muller and Danielle Ulloa all drove in runs for Brookwood. Rinehart stole home to provide the run-rule scoring margin.
Chapman again went 2-for-3 (2 2B), but apparently reinjured the shoulder that kept her out of action to start the season. Brookwood students seated near first base drew Henderson’s ire as Chapman was slow to get up after diving back to first base.
“I’m all about sportsmanship,” Henderson said. “[Our] team is all about being classy and having the utmost character they can have and represent North Forsyth. I felt that Brookwood was not being represented too well with some of their fans.”
Supporters of both schools banged drums and blew plastic vuvuzela horns throughout the doubleheader. The umpires asked them to stop after Henderson voiced his displeasure.
Rain pounded the northern Atlanta metro area for most of Wednesday morning, moving many state tourney games to Thursday. Henderson said he and Broncos coach Bill Batchelor both wanted to keep things as scheduled.
North returns five players next season who started Wednesday, but loses a heavy amount of offensive production and leadership in Shaw, Johnson, Rodriguez and Wade.
“It’s pretty sad,” Shaw said. “All these girls are like sisters to me.”
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter @PhilErvin_FCN