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Gary Harmon/HHJ Katlyn Winner, playing shortstop for Veterans, produced two RBI, a double and a triple in Tuesday’s region finale.
 
By MATTHEW BROWN
Journal Sports Writer
mbrown@sunmulti.com
Which softball team is the best in Region 2-AAAA?
Veterans High staked its case this past week. Though there is a three-way tie for first place in the final regular-season standings, the Warhawks – by virtue of allowing the least number of runs – are the No. 1 seed going into next week’s championship tournament at the Southern Pines Complex in Dublin.
But with Veterans, Perry High and West Laurens High – the host – all sporting 6-1 records, no one can be called the clear-cut favorite to be the last team standing by the end of the event.
“The kids have been playing well lately, hitting the ball a lot better,” said Warhawk head coach Mitch Horton after Wednesday’s 8-0 five-inning win against Crisp County – another team leading a AAAA region – at home. “Hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.”
Veterans has played most of the season without its starting shortstop, Melissa Cox. So Horton moved Katlyn Winner from catcher to the middle infield, and Payton Stallworth – normally an outfielder – assumed duties behind the plate. A player who proved her worth as the replacement in right field for the team’s two wins this week was Maggie Bell.
“It took us a while, but we’ve found our roles and responsibilities,” said Horton. “Everybody’s accepted it and done well. We hope to get Cox back soon, and that she will make an impact in the lineup.
“(Stallworth) is a hard worker and really wants to be successful. We couldn’t ask any more than what she’s done. Winner’s hit the ball real well, so that’s been pleasing.”
Kaylee Albritton threw not one, but two five-inning shutouts in the recent home games. Against Crisp, she gave up four hits (no more than one in any inning), struck out four and did not issue a walk. Albritton also fielded batted softballs for two putouts and two assists.
On Tuesday, Veterans shut out Mary Persons High 11-0 in the last 2-AAAA regular-season game. It was another four-strikeout game for Albritton, who only gave up two hits and one walk.
Horton can also use freshman left-hander Avery Lamb in the circle and may just use that depth in the region tournament schedule where each team plays two games on the first day (Tuesday). He said both are gritty athletes who will keep the team close and give the offense a chance to take a lead.
“We’re just going to play (the tournament) out and see what happens,” said Horton, when asked which team is truly the best. “The top six teams are really good. It’s going to be a battle, and hopefully we’ll be ready to go. We’re all about the same. It’s just who shows up ready to play.”
The last time Veterans played in Dublin, it was that only region loss to West Laurens, a team ranked as high as No. 1 in state polls. The coach said the Raiders dominated the game from the circle.
“They want the top seed going in and going out,” said Horton about his Warhawks. “We’re going to go for it.”
Not only are the 2-AAAA foes going to see strong hitting out of Veterans, but daring baserunning. Albritton is the leadoff batter, and against Mary Persons she did not settle for a single on a flare she it over the first baseman.
Sierra Stella bunted the pitcher to third base, and Winner smacked an RBI triple to right.
Veterans scored two in the second on consecutive singles from seniors Kelsey Fowler and Kaelyn Meade. Bell bunted her way on to fill the bases with one out. Fowler scored on a wild pitch, and Albritton singled in Meade.
Winner doubled and scored on an Ashley Killebrew single in the home third. Lamb singled, which moved Killebrew in position to score the fifth run on Fowler’s grounder.
Bell’s walk and Albritton’s third hit got the Warhawks going on a big six-run fourth. Bell scored on an error, Winner and Lakinya Green each drove in one and Meade’s two-out hit plated two.
The only Mary Persons scoring threat was in the second when the first two batters reached. But Albritton retired the next three in a row, all in the infield.
Veterans’ offense on Wednesday jumped all over the visiting Crisp Cougars with six first-inning runs. It started with an error and a walk, and then on 1-2 Winner hit a ball that glanced off the shortstop’s glove. She wound up with a two-run double.
Stallworth singled her home on a full-count, and when Meade singled Stallworth scored as Meade engaged the Cougar infield into a rundown.
Meade remained on base, and with two outs infield RBI hits by Green and Bell upped the score to 6-0.
After that, the Warhawks had just three hits, but one was Stallworth’s solo home run in the third. Meade doubled and scored the game-ending run in the fifth.
Crisp loaded the bases on two two-out errors in the top of the fourth, but all runners stayed after an Albritton whiff.
Horton was honored before Tuesday’s game for winning his 200th career game in high school softball. His tenure began at Northside when he was a slow-pitch assistant under Vicky Jones.
“I didn’t realize it was happening,” he said. “It was nice. It’s a great group of kids to do that with. A lot of great players and great memories, and hopefully we’ll continue to build on that.”


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