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Bulldogs split home debut DH

Feb. 5—The new season of college softball at Georgia Military College began with some late-season intensity Saturday at Couch Field. Playing at home for the first time in 2024 after dropping five straight in a round-robin setting in Florida, Ashley Bunn's Bulldogs managed a doubleheader split with a 2023 NJCAA national qualifier from North Carolina, the Gaston College Rhinos.

Georgia Military College won Game 1 8-5 even after there was a whole lot of heated discussion over the first run Gaston scored. The Bulldogs were one or two big hits away from a last-inning comeback in Game 2, but it was Gaston's Abigail Brewton finishing the complete game as the winner 4-1.

It's a season where Bunn, a member of the 400-win club as a college softball coach, is looking to replace some star performers, including the state's Player of the Year Avery Mercer (.457 average, 68 RBI) and her stellar leadoff hitter Lily Griffith.

Who did return is the state's Pitcher of the Year, Addie Moss. She won 17 games as a freshman last spring with a 2.49 earned run average.

Moss took to the circle in Game 1 Saturday. She gave up eight hits and four earned runs without issuing a walk in going the distance.

The first batter Moss faced was the only one to strike out in the game, but the next batter, Kendall Bradshaw, doubled down the left-field line. GMC's returning catcher, Paris Kirby, threw Bradshaw out to the new third baseman, Reign Williams, as Bradshaw tried to advance on a low pitch.

The game was scoreless through two innings as GMC had one hit but then saw Gaston turn a double play in the bottom of the first. Moss received more defensive help with a diving catch in right field by Emma Riner to end the top of the second with two on base. Returning shortstop Kaitlyn Hallman started a run-down to get a key out in a scoreless top of the third.

Moss, as a hitter, led off the home third with a single. Hallman singled with one out, and Williams was hit by a pitch to fill the bases with two down. Kirby drew a walk to end the deadlock.

The Bulldogs stretched out to a 4-0 lead in the fifth on four hits and a little 'small-ball' execution. At the bottom of the order, returning outfielder Karleigh Taylor led off with a single and stole second base. Hallman's bunt turned into a hit, and Taylor later scored on an error.

Hudson Smith, a part-time but productive player in 2023 (20 hits in 43 at-bats) now batting No. 2, was engaged in a long battle that began with her attempting to bunt. But with two strikes, she switched to swinging away, fouled a few pitches off, and drilled an RBI hit for 3-0 GMC.

Williams, No. 3 hitter, got her bunt down in play and received an RBI.

The chill in the air received some heat on the field, though, in the sixth inning as Gaston had a runner in scoring position with two outs. The Rhinos delivered a hit, and Taylor fielded in center and threw home in time for there to be a call. That call was out, much to the displeasure of Gaston coaches.

The resulting argument led to a discussion among the two umpires. What came next was a reversal of the call citing obstruction plus a highly upset Bunn making her feelings known.

It was still a 4-1 game and the Gaston turn continued with another base hit and run.

In the bottom half, the Bulldogs quietly put runners on base with walks for Williams. There was no bunt this time as two outs showed, but Williams tripled for three RBI. She scored on an error giving GMC a six-run cushion 8-2.

All of that was needed as Gaston's Grace Kealy belted a two-out three-run home run to the roof of the hitting facility in the outfield.

Moss recorded the final out to set the stage for a sweep, but it was not to be due to Brewton's work that included seven strikeouts.

The Rhinos scored one in the first inning on one two-out hit. Hailey Daughtry opposed Brewton in the circle and only allowed that one run and hit through three innings. She also had GMC's only hit at the plate — a second-inning double — in that span.

Gaston then scored two in the fourth and one more in the fifth, all on six combined hits. Alyssa Jones, a freshman from West Laurens High, shut things down for GMC in relief.

The Bulldogs had an awakening in the home seventh starting with Daughtry's one-out single. Riner got her second hit and returner Katelynn Anglin, as a pinch-hitter, singled to load the bases. Smith, representing the tying run, brought one home, but Brewton allowed no more.