MARIETTA — There was a moment of hesitation, then the called strike three.

That is when Kendall Frost and the Pope softball team could begin their celebration.

Frost dominated in pitching two complete games and the Lady Greyhounds defeated South Effingham 8-0 in five innings and then 5-2 to clinch a trip the Class AAAAAA state championship series in Columbus.

“It’s kind of amazing,” Frost said. “I knew we’d get here, but I just love my teammates so much, and it’s such a great feeling.”

Pope (30-2) will be in the final eight again after finishing runner-up to Lassiter last year and winning a state championship in 2019.

Frost did not allow a hit with three strikeouts in the opener and then threw three innings with two runs allowed in the second game.

“Absolutely lights-out,” Pope coach Ellie Viland said of Frost’s performance. “Really, really dominant. She’s someone who is super, super strong in pressure situations. She wants to be out there. She’s a workhorse, and it showed through today.”

Offensively, Pope depended on a pair of big hits.

In the opener, a three-run homer in the top of the fourth inning came from Jadyn Laneaux, who finished 3-for-3 with three runs scored. The homer gave the Lady Greyhounds their sixth, seventh and eighth runs to put the game out of reach with the mercy rule.

Then, it was Katie Ward with a three-run homer in the third inning of the second game to put Pope up 5-1, a lead it did not give up.

“We’ve had a lot of people come through this year,” Viland said, noting the team graduated its two top power hitters from last season. “This year, we didn’t necessarily know what our offense was going to be like. Every single player, they’re playing relaxed and for each other, and we’ve had some really strong performances throughout the year.”

The Lady Greyhounds dominated Game 1 from the start, jumping out to a 3-0 first-inning lead behind RBIs from Ward and Kailey Martin. But the second game was more of a challenge, with a run in the second inning after Martin started the inning with a single. After Ward’s homer in the third, Kayla Keller came home on a single from Peyton McCormack to finish the scoring.

Pope will move on to the state’s final eight, where it will open play in Columbus next Thursday in the double-elimination tournament that will finish on Oct. 30.

“The girls have been in the state championship the past three years,” Viland said. “They know the level and we’ve kind of preached that all year. No one has played on a bigger stage than them.”

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