For the past three seasons, Batesburg-Leesville has been thwarted in its quest to win another Region 3-2A softball championship after ruling the conference for four straight seasons between 2003 and 2006.
In 2007, the Panthers finished in a three-way tie for first place, and ended up as a No. 3 playoff seed. Last spring, the Panthers were in a four-way tie for first at the end of the region campaign, and entered the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. This season, B-L shared first place with newcomer Gilbert, but fell to the Indians in a tie-breaking game.
Still, the region disappointment of late has yet to keep the Panthers from losing playoff focus. In each of the past two seasons Hayward Bouknight’s resilient team emerged with road-warrior style district titles to advance to the Upper State championship tournament. As a No. 2 seed with at least home district home game on tap, B-L could be in even better position to emerge with another district title.
“Our record never really shows what kind of team we have because we always play tough competition, in and out of the region,” said Bouknight. “Playing the kind of competition we do year in and year out gets us ready for the playoffs.”
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The annual B-L postseason quest begins today with a first-round District II game at home against Eau Claire, the No. 3 seed out of Region 4-2A.
The Panthers have a veteran team, but one that made some significant changes this season. The biggest has been the decision to go almost exclusively with junior Victoria Gunter, who had been sharing circle duty with senior Lauren Kennedy for the two previous seasons. Kennedy initially was moved to fill a hole at first base, but was shifted to second base early in the season when another void surfaced. Senior outfielder Carson Covington has since taken over at first base.
Gunter is a proven big-game pitcher, and the top of the batting order featuring Kennedy in the leadoff spot followed by Gunter, senior catcher Jessica Buzhardt, senior shortstop Shauna Bashline and Covington is productive. Senior Ashliegh Padgett is the defense anchor in the outfield in center.
Gilbert, which emerged as a pennant winner in its first season in a much tougher region after years of easy pickings in 4-2A, hosts former region rival Kennan in a District III first-round game tonight. The Indians’ playoff hopes, again, ride on the right arm of veteran pitcher Leigha Hite, who beat Batesburg-Leesville twice in three meetings this spring, is 10-6 with a 1.09 ERA and 136 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 103 innings of work.
The playoff key for Gilbert (11-8) is hitting. The Tribe usually struggles to score runs, putting all the pressure on Hite and the infield defense, anchored by shortstop Victoria Burkett. Jasmine Strother and Burkett are the only consistent offensive producers. Strother is hitting .439 with 16 runs scored, nine RBIs and four triples, while Burkett is batting .375 with 13 runs and 10 RBIs.
Pelion (11-11) made the cut in its first season in Region 5-2A. The Panthers finished in a third-place tie with Edisto, and enters the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. Pelion travels to face first-year Ashley Ridge in Summerville in a first-round District VI contest.
Tiffany Osmanski, Brittany Osmanski, Samantha Padgett, Alex Kneece and Rebecca Tims have had good seasons for the Panthers. Tiffany Omanski is hitting .400 with 18 RBIs, six double, three triples and six steals, and is also the top pitcher with a 7-7 record, a 2.33 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 84 innings. Brittany Osmanski is hitting .313 with 16 runs, Padgett is batting .307 with 15 runs, 13 RBIs and four triples, Kneece is at .274, had four triples and leads the team with 16 RBIs. Tims tops the club with 11 steals.