Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill's Mariah Dickey (16) is forced out at home as Etowah catcher Torrie Garner (22) catches the ball during the fourth inning of game two of the second round of Class AAAAA state softball playoffs Thursday.
SUWANEE -- As veterans of two straight state championships, Collins Hill's softball teams naturally look to seniors like Kayla Floor, Mckenzie Halstead and Brittany Roley for leadership.
In the second round of this season's Class AAAAA state playoffs, the trio definitely delivered, leading the Eagles to a 3-0, 7-1 sweep of visiting Etowah on Thursday at Collins Hill.
"We have three three-year starters on the field," said Paul Pierce, who is in his first season as Collins Hill's head coach, and will accompany the Eagles (25-7) to Columbus for their third straight trip to the Elite Eight tournament. "They're hungry and wanted to get back (to Columbus). They held a team meeting Tuesday and talked to the team about expectations and working hard and having a good attitude."
All three backed up their words Thursday in their own ways.
Floor (12-4) did the job in the circle with two complete-game performances, giving up just nine hits and one unearned run and striking out a combined 19 over 14 innings on the day.
That performance was even more impressive considering the fact the Georgia State-commit might not have been able to pitch had the series not been rained out Wednesday as she was still recovering from an allergic reaction to medication for a sore knee.
"I'm definitely surprised, especially pitching two games," Floor said of her performance. "I didn't know I could do that."
She was strong from the outset, and needed to be as Collins Hill managed just two hits of Etowah starter Bridgette Flaherty in the opener, though the Eagles did take an early lead in the bottom of the second, thanks to some slick baserunning from Alexandra Spell.
After drawing a leadoff walk and advancing to second on Emily Buck's sacrifice bunt, Spell danced around a tag to steal third, and then beat the throw home on an infield grounder to put Collins Hill up 1-0 without the ball leaving the infield.
But the big hit came with the Eagles still clinging to that one-run lead in the fifth.
Roley led off the inning with a double and went to third on Payton Wilson's sacrifice bunt, bringing up Halstead, who has struck out her previous two trips to the plate against Flaherty.
But after falling behind in the count and then evening it at 2-2, the senior third baseman sent a laser beam of a liner to the gap in left-center that had just enough height to clear the wall for her fourth home run of the season, increasing the Collins Hill lead to 3-0.
"That helped me out a lot," Floor said of Halstead's homer. "Having enough runs so it could push us through, that really helped the team out."
Floor then helped her own cause by escaping jams in the sixth and seventh, stranding the tying runs on base each inning, to close out the Game 1 victory.
And she fell into an early hole in the nightcap, when a pair of errors on Courtney Atkinson's sacrifice attempt allowed the Etowah first baseman to circle the bases and give the visiting Eagles a 1-0 lead after two innings.
But Collins Hill returned the favor by taking advantage of a critical Etowah error in the top of the fourth to tie the game 1-1, and the combination of Roley and Halstead came through again to put the Eagles in front for good the next inning.
Roley led off with a single and went to second when Wilson drew a walk before coming home on Halstead's RBI single, keying a two-run rally that put Collins Hill in front 3-1.
Halstead then drove in Roley again an inning later to finish off a 4-for-6 afternoon with the homer, two walks and four RBIs to make the the score 4-1.
And Collins Hill cashed in on two more Etowah errors and got singles from Roley, Brea Dickey and Ashleigh Simmnons to put the game away with three more runs in the top of the seventh, making the score 7-1 and punching the Eagles' ticket back to Columbus.
"I'm so pumped for state," Floor said. "Three-peat. That's all I want."
Roley, meanwhile, finished the day 3-for-6 with a double and four runs scored.
Flaherty had a strong day at the plate to lead Etowah (24-11), finishing the day 3-for-6.
Maddie Beth Jenkins and Grayson Lutz also had two hits each on the day for the Eagles.