Darton freshman Katelynn Johnson celebrates with head coach Eric Neel as she rounds third base after the first of the Lady Cavs’ five home runs Tuesday against Andrew College. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Darton State’s Emily Church has made the jog down the third base line and into the waiting arms of her teammates 18 times this season.
Each trot to home plate feels just as special.
“It gives me chills,” the freshman catcher said, referring to the Lady Cavs’ routine of surrounding home plate and celebrating as a group after every home run. “It’s something you never get used to.”
Like they’ve done many times this season, Church and the Lady Cavs wore out a path to home plate on Tuesday with a doubleheader sweep of Andrew College to wrap up the regular season.
No. 15 Darton, which smashed five home runs in the 12-0 and 8-0 victories, finished the season a perfect 18-0 at home and will enter Thursday’s Region XVII tournament on a 16-game winning streak. The Lady Cavs (42-10, 19-1) also raised their season home run total to 60, which ranks sixth in the nation, and Church moved into a tie for third in the country with two more round-trippers.
“I was scared we were going to peak too early this year, and since we have come back from spring break I really feel like we are re-energized and playing a little faster,” Darton coach Eric Neel said. “You couldn’t ask for a better time to be playing this well.”
As good as Darton’s hitting was on Tuesday, Savannah Carlisle’s pitching was equally dominant.
Carlisle, who was one of six sophomores to get recognized after the game, threw the team’s first no-hitter this season and the first of her college career in the opening game. The right-hander allowed just four base runners — three hit batsmen and an error — and didn’t allow a Lady Tiger past second base in her five innings of work.
“That’s great because we definitely are going to need more than Sommar and Tiffany if we are going to carry this thing a long ways,” said Neel, referring to top pitchers Sommar Wright and Tiffany Bishop, who have thrown several one- and two-hitters this season. “We need Savannah and Jostlyn (Higgerson) to continue to do what they are doing and continue to throw strikes and get people out.”
Not counting an infield error that allowed a fieldable groundball to reach the right-field fence, Carlisle only allowed one ball hit to the outfield and faced just two over the minimum hitters.
Carlisle wasn’t even aware of her no-no until a reporter told her after the game. But instead of talking about her individual accomplishment, she diverted praise to her team and its winning streak.
“I’m not the kind of person to worry about stats or anything,” she said. “I just want the team to win.”
That’s all Darton has been doing lately. The Lady Cavs haven’t lost since March 15 in the Southern Union Lady Bison Tournament and haven’t lost a Region XVII game since March 11. The doubleheader sweep also gave Darton five shutouts in its last 10 games.
Neel said the undefeated record at home was a goal the team set for itself back in January when he took over the program.
“It was something that was realistic and something we knew we would have to work hard for,” he said. “You have to defend your home turf, because it gives you a little wiggle room when you go on the road.”
Darton jumped all over Andrew in the opener with four first-inning runs thanks to RBIs from Church and Jordan Allen and a two-run homer from Katelynn Johnson. Johnson’s blast to left field was the first of three homers in the first game, which included a two-run home run to dead center from Church and a solo shot from Melissa Dearth. Church and Dearth both homered in the second game, too.
Church finished the doubleheader 5-for-5 with six RBIs and four runs and was one of seven Lady Cavs with multi-hit days, including Amber Youngblood (4-6, 3 RBI, R), Allen (3-6, 3 RBI, R), Higgerson (5-7, RBI, 3 R), Sierra Newman (2-6, 3 R), Bree Wells (3-7, 2 R, RBI), Dearth (2-5, 2 RBI, 3 R).
Higgerson pitched all six innings in the second game and allowed three hits and struck out four. She only allowed three base runners, leaving all of them stranded in scoring position.
Lindsay Sheets, Tiffany Hand and Rachel Stahlman were the only players to get hits for Andrew, which finished the regular season winless in the region and 3-31 overall.
The Lady Cavs will be the No. 1 seed in this week’s region tournament and will play either Georgia Perimeter or East Georgia in Thursday’s opener at 1 p.m. Andrew failed to qualify for the six-team tournament.