By CHRIS WHITAKER
AMERICUS - Georgia Southwestern softball coach Eddie Ward said his team hasn't worked a lot with the bunt steal this season. Senior Jessi Croft doesn't even remember hearing it called in practice. But Ward called it on Saturday in the Lady Hurricanes' second game against Lander, and it worked to perfection as Cherelle Pullen scored from second base on Tiffany Milstid's bunt for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth. After Lander tied the game in the sixth, it went into extra innings and Kassi Reneau drove in the winning run in the eighth to lift GSW to a doubleheader sweep. The Lady Hurricanes won both games by 2-1 scores.
"I'm happy that the seniors stepped up today, especially Jessi in ensuring we don't go 0-18 in conference play," said Ward. "I asked them to please cover me for guaranteeing we wouldn't finish last, but we have to win more games. Lander's got 10 more, and we've got four. But we've got that monkey off our back."
GSW (15-17, 2-12) earned their first conference wins of the season and ended a 26-game losing streak within conference play.
Ward said that was the first time he's been aggressive on the bases in a very long time, all the way back to when he was the coach for a traveling softball team from Pierce County.
"I actually only remember being that aggressive back in a slow-pitch game in Lubbock, Texas in the World Series," he said. "Our girl tagged up on a deep fly ball and she never stopped." This wasn't a deep fly ball, but an infield hit. "It was set up perfect," he said. "We had somebody at the plate who's a really good bunter, and we had killer speed at second. Cherelle is a basketball player by trade, and her speed is just awesome. I couldn't have called that play with anybody else on my team."
The Lady Hurricanes had a couple of different opportunities to preserve the win in Game 2 or end it earlier, but a couple of mistakes kept Lander in the game.
After GSW took the 1-0 lead in the fifth, Lander responded in the sixth with a little help from the Lady Hurricanes' defense.
Lander's Lindsey Sammons laid down a bunt and with the GSW defense napping, she stole second base. Sara Senn followed and drove her in with a single to tie the game at 1. "That popped my balloon completely," said Ward. "It was a total lost of focus by everybody."
In the eighth, Milstid gets on with a hit and is moved over on a sacrifice bunt, but is caught off base too far and was tagged for the second out of the inning. But after that was when the Lady Hurricanes put together the winning sequence.
Croft, the hero of Game 1 with a two-run double in the sixth, singled, and Amanda Howett followed reaching base on an error. So with Croft on third and Howett at first, Reneau drilled a shot up the middle for the winning run.
"This is huge for us," said Croft. "We haven't liked not putting wins together. We've had a lot of good games, but we can't pull them out. It's a great feeling. This really helped us realize we are a good team and can pull through with some wins."
Ward said Reneau's hit was clutch, but nothing unusual because she's done that for the Lady Hurricanes for four years. After pitching 11 innings and allowing one run in a loss at Augusta State on Wednesday, Brittany Milstid (8-8) went the full eight innings, allowing one run on four hits in receiving the win.
"I can't say enough about her," said Ward. "She kept us in the ball games, and we were finally able to score."
In Game 1, GSW stranded nine, including the bases loaded twice. Senn led the Lady Bearcats with two hits, and Ashley Durden led GSW with two. Lander (8-25, 1-9) took a 1-0 lead in the fifth with a Lindsey Whitfield RBI-single, but Croft came back and doubled in the winning runs.
GSW will return to action on Tuesday when Valdosta State comes to Americus.