When North Hall’s Niki Carver steps into the batter’s box, she’s not grimacing or over-thinking things.
Instead, she’s singing a tune.
“I sing when I bat, so I was singing and thinking to wait back just a little longer,” she said. “That’s all I needed to get that 10 feet.”
Carver smacked a two-run home run in the third inning of Wednesday’s Game 2 to help secure a second-round berth in the Class AAAA state playoffs with a sweep over Troup County at North Hall High.
Carver’s motivation was Sam Hunt’s ‘House Party.’
After a decade-long hiatus from the state playoffs, North Hall’s softball program left no questions on the table as to if it belongs this year.
The Lady Trojans (22-8) swept the Lady Tigers 6-2 and 7-1 in Gainesville. On the other side of the bracket, Walnut Grove swept Bainbridge, and will host North Hall Wednesday, Oct. 21, for the next round of the playoffs.
“I don’t think you can really put it into words,” coach Brooke Russell. “This is a special group of girls and they deserve it.”
After taking some pressure off themselves with a win in game one, North Hall swapped to being the visiting team in Game 2, and immediately doubled the pressure on Troup County.
With teammates on first and second base, Carson McCormack delivered a single to left field to score both runners. She advanced to second on the throw home.
Heading into the third inning, the Lady Trojans still held the 2-0 lead.
Pitcher Kendyl Chase helped her own cause with a single to left field to start off the inning. After Chase stole second, Carver pulled a ball over the outfield fence, but foul. The next pitch she got even better.
Carver took out her frustrations from getting hit in the back earlier in the game for a two-run home run to center field.
“I got hit, so I was kind of upset about that,” Carver said. “I was thinking, ‘If there’s one belt-high, I’m going to take it.’
Next pitch, I got one that was belt-high, a little out and I just took it that way.”
Not only did she hand her team a 4-0 lead in the third inning of a decisive state playoff game, Carver broke the North Hall school record for most home runs hit in a season. The home run was her sixth over the fence — she’s also hit two in-the-park home runs — to break the old record of five.
The Tigers (12-17) scored a run in the bottom of the inning, but it was their lone run of the game.
In the sixth inning, Ashley Goines walked ahead of Camila Howell hitting a single. After a sacrifice bunt moved the pair up, Kailee Dyer drove the two in with an error on the Troup County defense.
The final run came in the top of the seventh inning as McCormack reached on a throwing error from the Tigers’ third baseman. McCormack was able to reach third on the error. She was able to score as Ashlyn Brewster hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield.
Troup County took a one-run lead to open the first game, but that was the only lead it would have the entire night.
Chase pitched both games for the Lady Trojans, picking up six strikeouts in the second game. She allowed four hits — two bunts, an RBI double and an infield single — two walks and an earned run in Game 2, as well.
Goines had a pair of singles from the plate, while McCormack, Chase and Howell all had one single.
The big fly from Carver was a “turning point” for the Lady Trojans, according to Russell.
“That was big,” she said. “It gave us a little more energy to keep pushing on.”