Lovett’s quest for its first state softball title in school history ended just short as the Lions finished second to Heard County in the Class 2A championships in Columbus.
The Lions, who were ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season, lost to Heard 14-7 in the finals Oct. 31. With the state championships (semifinals and finals) being a double-elimination format after the tournament’s first three rounds were a best-of-three series setup, even if the Lions had beaten the Braves in that game, they would have had to defeat them a second time to win the title, since Heard had not lost a game in Columbus at that point.
The Braves won their second 2A crown since 2014. Lovett started the tournament’s championship round with an 11-1 loss to Heard Oct. 30 in the first game of the semifinals, dropping into the losers’ bracket, where the Lions beat Bremen 10-1 later that day. Lovett then blanked Vidalia 2-0 in the losers’ bracket final Oct. 31 before facing Heard in the finals.
“They’ve very fundamentally sound,” Lions coach Perelini Bush said of the Braves. “Their offense was pretty strong and also aggressive and very selective. You can tell their hitters had some experience. Also, they were a very heads-up team. They understood situations and executed timely hits.”
Lovett finished the season 26-4 in Bush’s first year at the helm.
“I’m very proud of them,” she said. “It is tough when you come in (to the state semifinals), and the first game you lose and you’re in the losers’ bracket. There’s a lot of pressure there. To see my players come back and work their way back up to the championship, it really says a lot about their resilience, their fight.
“We did not show our best team when we showed up (in the first Heard game). They had to humble themselves a little bit and come together as a group. I am very proud of our players in finding a way to get as far as we did.”
Bush said dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak was quite a challenge.
“The pandemic and having to come back to school (in August) and trying to monitor ourselves, that is a lot for … anyone (to handle),” she said. “The fact that we’re an outside sport, I was very hopeful we had a chance to get through our season. I’m very proud of everything our girls had faced and reacted to and were challenged with.
“We did a very good job getting in the games we could. We had some very competitive nonconference games with teams in higher classifications. It really did prepare us for the (state) tournament. I’m really happy with the performances on offense and defense and the camaraderie with the team and the staff since this was my first season with the team.”
Bush said the team was led by junior pitcher Peyton Kanaly, who allowed only 37 earned runs and 12 walks with 169 strikeouts in 130 innings pitched, with an ERA of 1.99, and junior catcher Allie Ohde, who hit .557 with two home runs, 23 RBIs, 44 runs, 18 walks, only five strikeouts and an on-base percentage of .657.
“Kanaly … has done a phenomenal job with her command on the mound,” the coach said. “She pitched very well from our losers’ bracket (games) all the way to the championship game. … Ohde … has done a phenomenal job offensively finding her swing. She had some very clutch moments in our road (to Columbus starting) from Round 3 against Jeff Davis.
“In Game 3 she had a game-tying home run, and that was our first (state playoff) home run in our stadium (in history). I do believe that carried over to the state tournament in Columbus, whether she got on base with small hits or big hits.”
With Lovett losing only one starter, senior shortstop Hadley Griggs, the team is expected to contend for the state crown again next year.
“I’m very proud of where we ended (the season),” Bush said. “It gives us hope for next year as far as how to prepare and what to correct. I’m very happy to see that we have the majority of our group returning.”