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Brookwood, Lassiter use late lightning in split

SNELLVILLE -- With two teams as evenly matched on paper, one would've expected the kind of back-and-forth action that Brookwood and Lassiter provided throughout their first-round Class AAAAAA state playoff doubleheader Wednesday at Brookwood.

The No. 7 state-ranked Broncos and the fifth-ranked Trojans each came up with an important late rally to force a split of the twinbill.

Brookwood had Baylei Banfield's RBI single in the sixth to take a 3-2 win in the opener, while MacKenzie Kayler tossed a complete game and provided a two-run double in the fifth inning of the nightcap to pull Lassiter even in the series with a 2-1 win in the nightcap.

The two teams will meet again in the deciding game of the best of three series today at 6 p.m. at Brookwood.

"This is playoff softball, and this (series) should probably be played (at the state tournament) in Columbus," Broncos coach Bill Batchelor said after his team went to 23-11 on the season. "It's a tough first-round matchup for both of us, so we knew it was going to ... be a hit here, a play there that was going to make the difference."

Sure enough, a hit here and a play made -- or not made -- there spelled the difference in both games.

Brookwood did the late damage in the opener with the game tied 2-2 following Mandy Blackwell's RBI single and an outfield error in the bottom of the first, countered by Elise Sandberg's two-run triple in the top of the fourth.

The rally came suddenly after Kayler retired 15 of 17 Brookwood hitters at one point following the early outburst.

Ablan led off the bottom of the sixth by sending a single up the middle, and one out later, the Broncos found the gaps in the Lassiter (27-5-1) defense.

Ansley Jones and Banfield each sent bloopers to the shallow outfield that fell for hits, the latter of which brought home courtesy runner Kayla Louie to put Brookwood back in front 3-2.

Ablan (13-3) then retired Lassiter in order to finish her complete-game effort in which she allowed just the two runs on four hits and struck out six.

"She did a great job all night long," Batchelor said of Ablan. "To give up two runs to that team both times, usually you should win a ball game."

Ablan and the Broncos appeared to put themselves in position to win Game 2 after Taiylor Rinehart singled to lead off the top of the fourth and advanced to second on an outfield error before coming home on Megan Litumbe's RBI double, giving Brookwood a 1-0 lead.

The freshman pitcher had escaped trouble throughout the nightcap, scattering five hits and stranding six Lassiter baserunners through the first four innings.

But the Trojans kept creating scoring opportunities, including putting runners on second and third with nobody out when Kelly Sinclair led off the fifth by getting hit by a pitch and Carli Kayler reaching on a throwing error on her infield grounder.

MacKenzie Kayler then cashed in on the opening by lacing a line drive to left field that deflected off the glove of a running Ansley Jones in left for a two-run double that vaulted the Trojans into a 3-2 lead.

"We've been in a little slump hitting," Lassiter coach Jason Campbell said. "Right now, we're just having to fight for runs. And against a good team like Brookwood, you've got to fight for every run you're going to get."

Brookwood had chances to tie or even take the lead by getting back-to-back two-out singles by Blackwell and Ablan in the sixth and leadoff single from Jones in the top of the seventh.

But each time MacKenzie Kayler (19-5) was able to wriggle out of trouble, including getting help from third baseman Sinclair, who leapt to snag Susan Norris' liner to end the sixth, to close out the win for the Trojans.

And Batchelor is hopeful the Broncos can shake off the missed opportunity to close out the series and come out in today's Game 3 with the right mindset.

"Give (Lassiter) credit. They didn't tuck their heads," Batchelor said. "They came out right at us again. ... It's going to be key what team decides to show up (today) -- if we're going to come out and compete or be discouraged."

Rinehart, Litumbe, Blackwell, Alban, Jones and Banfield each had two hits on the day for Brookwood, while Sandbert, Kelsey Wertz and Sarah Breitbach each had two hits for the doubleheader to Lassiter.