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Saints march on to college softball World Series
Members of the North Georgia College & State University softball team celebrate with the NCAA Division II Southeast Super Regional trophy after defeating Lenoir-Rhyne 15-0 on Saturday in Dahlonega. - photo by Courtesy of North Georgia College & State University
DAHLONEGA — For the second consecutive season, the North Georgia College & State University softball team is headed to the NCAA Division II College World Series.

By trouncing Lenoir-Rhyne 15-0 in five innings Saturday, the Lady Saints swept the best-of-three Super Regional series to remain unbeaten on the season at 50-0.

With the win, the Lady Saints became the only team at any level of NCAA competition to advance to the softball College World Series with an unblemished record. They will face the Molloy College Lions in the first round next week at a date and time to be announced.

Junior pitcher Sarah Phillips also remains unbeaten, winning her 43rd consecutive decision from the circle.

After earning the win Friday night, Phillips threw a complete-game shutout in Game 2, giving up only three hits while striking out seven. Of the 68 pitches Phillips threw in the game, 47 were for strikes. She allowed no walks.  

Despite her impressive performance, Phillips had nothing but praise for her team.

“I have to say wow about my teammates and how many runs they scored,” she said. “I know I can always count on them.
“There aren’t words to describe the kind of team I have behind me.”

Anchoring the offensive explosion Saturday was sophomore Hilary Cox, who went 3-for-3 with two runs scored.

“I just tried to be a little bit patient,” she said. “I just attacked it earlier and hit with more confidence.”

Confidence is going to play a big role for the Lady Saints going forward. After making it to the second round of the College World Series last year, North Georgia was eliminated by Lock Haven. The Lady Saints hope that experience, combined with the confidence they’ve built during their undefeated season, will put them in a position to make a run deep into the playoffs.

“Everything is just falling into place,” Phillips said. “We went last year and we know what it’s all about. We know what we have to do to get to that final game and win it all. We have the potential, talent, sportsmanship and teamwork.”

To Cox, a return trip to the series is about redemption.

“Last year, we were kind of there to soak it all in,” Cox said. “This year, we’re there for business.

“We have one goal and if we leave there without accomplishing that goal, it will be very disappointing.”

Senior Courtney McGuire thinks that North Georgia has what it takes to keep from being disappointed in Missouri.

“I think we have the experience and we know what’s going on in World Series,” she said. “I think that if we play like we did (Saturday), we’ll have (the championship).”

The theme seems clear; the Lady Saints believe their experience will prove to be the difference. Such a common statement from multiple players shows a team that is of one mind and that has one goal. North Georgia coach Mike Davenport believes that is his team’s biggest strength.

“The unity of this team,” he said. “They’re a family. Obviously we don’t always get along, but ultimately, when they walk through those gates onto the field and in between the lines, they play together.

“That’s the most important thing that’s got them this far. They’re the most unselfish bunch we’ve ever had here, and we’ve had some pretty good teams.”

On Saturday, North Georgia’s offense got started in the third inning when Lauren Dykes and Courtney McGuire followed a Hilary Cox single with back-to-back doubles, leaving the score at 2-0 going into the bottom half of the inning.   

Lady Bears starting pitcher, Dawon Millwood, was knocked from the game in the top of the fourth inning. During that inning, the Lady Saints scored three runs on three hits and a Lady Bears error, moving the lead to five.

Alex Smith, the Game 1 starter, came in to relieve Millwood after a Katherine Martin triple, and despite a rocky start — a hit batter and a walk — Smith evened out and shut down the Lady Saints to get out of the inning without further damage.

The North Georgia offense broke the game open in the top of the fifth, scoring 10 runs on 10 hits to give Phillips the opportunity to close out the game in the bottom half.

Cox started the inning with a double and advanced to third on a Pilar Harden single. A passed ball allowed Cox to score and Harden to advance. A single from Laura Voyles put two on for Dykes, who hit a three-run home run to extend the lead to 8-0.

Following a McGuire single, Millwood came back on to pitch in hopes of stopping the rout.

That notion was quickly dismissed when the first batter Millwood faced after coming back in, Leslee Smith, hit a two-run home run to put the score at 10-0. After Cox was hit by a pitch to gain first base, a pair of singles from Kat Martin and Harden set up Natasha Willemse’s two-RBI double to push the lead to 15-0.

Phillips struck out the first batter she faced in the bottom half of the fifth, Brandi Haithcock. After getting Tameron Sealey to pop out, Phillips forced Brittany Cherry to ground out to first base and end the game.
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