SUWANEE — Each team brought out its bats during the first two games of the Class AAAAA state softball sectional series between North Gwinnett and Lassiter.
But pitching took center stage in Thursday’s third and deciding game at North.
And while North’s Alaina Hall was good, Lassiter’s MacKenzie Kayler was better.
The sophomore shut down the No. 3 ranked Bulldogs on just three hits and smacked a solo home run to help the ninth-ranked Trojans to a 2-0 victory in a game that took just an hour and 13 minutes to complete.
“That’s playoff softball,” North coach Randy Black said after his team’s season was ended at 22-10-1. “Their kid (Kayler) threw a great game, and they got a couple breaks. ... We got down 2-0 and did not quit. We had our chances.”
Kayler, who struck out three on the day, didn’t give North many chances in the early innings, facing just one over the minimum in taking a no-hitter into the fifth.
She also provided her own run support by launching a 2-2 pitch from Hall (5-2) deep over the fence in left-center to put Lassiter (21-12) up 1-0 in the top of the second.
“MacKenzie did a great job on the mound and she got the big hit to get us on the board,” said Lassiter coach Scott Kelly, whose Trojans will play either Parkview or Milton in next week’s second round. “When we did that, we were able to relax a little bit. But North Gwinnett’s going to fight you tooth and nail until the last out. You wouldn’t expect anything else.”
After giving up a two-out, RBI double to Morgan Fite in the third to push the lead to 2-0, Hall settled down and 13 of the final 14 Trojans she faced to keep North in the game.
“She came back last night in the elimination game (a 13-1 North win) and did a tremendous job,” Black said of Hall, who gave up just the two runs and six hits with six strikeouts over seven innings Thursday. “Then, she comes back (Thursday) ... and guts it out.”
The Bulldogs tried to follow Hall’s lead, with Tori Freedman finally breaking up Kayler’s no-hit bid with one out in the bottom of the fifth.
A two-out error then prolonged the inning, and it looked like North might get on the board when Hall rifled a single up the middle and into center field.
But flex player Shelby Sinclair threw a strike home and catcher Sammie Green apparently had the plate blocked as Freedman and the ball arrived almost simultaneously to record the out and end the inning with Lassiter still holding onto the 2-0 lead.
“(Sinclair) does the little things,” Kelly said. “She doesn’t get all the accolades at the plate, but when we need a big play, she ... made the big play.”
The Bulldogs still had chances to get on the board by putting runners on base in each of the last two innings on a Lacey Najafi walk and Alex McDavid single in the sixth, and a two-out walk to Sydney O’Neill in the seventh.
But after retiring Heather Maddox on a liner to left, Kayler got a break when a similar liner by Caroline Rogers went just foul and then recovered to retire the North catcher on a grounder back to her to escape further trouble in the sixth.
Then in the seventh, she pitched around the walk by getting Hall to pop into foul territory, and Kelsea Ogletree was able to run under it to record the out to end the game, and North’s season.