When Cherokee Bluff’s Lauren Rule stepped up with three homers against East Hall on Tuesday, it was just the latest example of heroics for its playoff-bound program.
“She’s been huge all season for us,” Lady Bears coach Josh Joiner said. “It kind of put an exclamation point on the season.”
Cherokee Bluff’s 16-4 win against East Hall, along with Madison County’s loss to North Oconee was enough to lock up the No. 4 seed to the Super Regionals — the new four-team format for the first two rounds of state — adopted for the 2022 season.
Coming down the stretch, it was a three-team race between Cherokee Bluff (12-13, 10-8 Region 8-4A), North Hall (15-10, 10-8) and Madison County (14-14, 9-9) for the last spot to the postseason from the ultra-talented, 11-team league.
The unfortunate thing, Joiner said, is that two playoff-calibur teams in 8-4A won’t get that postseason experience.
“I feel like this region is good enough to have six teams in the (state) tournament,” Cherokee Bluff’s coach said. “We have two teams in this region (North Hall and Madison County) that should also be in the playoffs,”
However, Cherokee Bluff got the bid by winning the games down the stretch when it counted most, starting with a win against Madison County on Oct. 5, followed by a necessary 13-11 win against North Oconee just two days later.
Likewise, the Lady Bears had the other part of the equation they needed to punch the ticket to state as Madison County lost both of its last two games.
Cherokee Bluff also won both head-to-head meetings against No. 3-seed North Oconee during the regular season.
For Cherokee Bluff, the story of the season was a bunch of youthful talent stepping up as a collective to win when it mattered most, Joiner said.
Rule isn’t the only Lady Bears player who could hit it deep.
Angelina Baronci had a walk-off homer earlier in the season to beat North Hall.
Catalina Baronci, a pitcher, and Angelina Baronci, a catcher, were big additions to the program when they moved into the school’s district prior to the 2022 season, Joiner said.
The Lady Bears also counted regularly on the clutch hitting provided by Audrey Graham and Clarissa McDaniel, the coach said.
After playing such a talented schedule, led in Region 8-4A by Walnut Grove and East Forsyth, the top-two seeds to state, Cherokee Bluff’s coach feels like his team is capable of making some noise in the playoffs.
With the location of its Super Region still to be determined, it will be a two-day, double-elimination format to see who moves on to Columbus.
The Lady Bears’ Super Regional will include second-seeded Holy Innocents’ and third-seed Hampton.
“Playing these really good teams all season prepares us really well for state,” Joiner said.