Twenty-four months ago, the Florence Lady Buffs were at the end of one of their worse seasons in the school’s history.
Florence struggled to an 0-19 record, but head coach Brett Gola kept his optimism.
“That was a tough season, but everybody was excited about the seventh- and eighth-graders that were coming up the next two years,” Gola said. “We knew we were going to be competitive; we just didn’t know how competitive we were going to be this early on.”
Now that optimism and work is paying off as the Lady Buffs (11-13, 6-8) are one win away from making it into the postseason.
After going 6-16 in 2013, the Lady Buffs rebounded to tie Cameron Yoe and Lexington for fourth place in District 22-2A and force a series of tiebreaker games today at Little River-Academy.
Yoe and Lexington will play at 4:30 p.m., with the winner facing Florence 30 minutes later for a shot at the Class 2A playoffs. The winner of the second game will get the playoff spot.
Florence is playing in the second game after winning a coin flip tiebreaker when the athletic directors from the schools were all at the area track meet. Winning one game instead of two makes a big difference.
“They might have some momentum from the first game of the night going into the second, but we really like our chances after having the bye in Monday night’s game,” Gola said.
The young team that Gola was optimistic about has come of age early and helped Florence win three of its last four games to force the tie. The Lady Buffs have 14 players listed on their roster: four freshmen, six sophomores, three juniors and one senior.
Sophomore Mackenzie Futrell serves as the ace of the pitching staff and the leading hitter statistically. Futrell is 8-6 with a 2.65 ERA and is hitting a team-best .375 with 19 RBIs, 11 extra base hits, two home runs and six stolen bases.
Freshman Madison Hill and sophomore Courtney Culp are each batting over .350 and have combined for 26 RBIs on the season.
Freshman Emily Gray has given the Lady Buffs a solid second arm after compiling a 3.12 ERA with 88 games in 12 appearances, including six starts and three complete games.
Samantha Vaughan is swinging a hot bat lately. The only senior on the team is hitting .545 (6 for 11) with three extra base hits. She has scored three runs in the last three games of the regular season.
During district play, Florence beat Yoe 5-3 at home and 9-3 on the road, but lost to Lexington by a combined score of 20-5.
“We’re prepared to really have a tough game on our hands whichever team we get,” Gola said. “We might have a new wrinkle or two or approach something a little different, but we really like our chances with our standard bunch.”
22-2A 4TH-PLACE TIEBREAKER
All games at Little River-Academy
- 4:30 p.m. — Cameron Yoe vs. Lexington
- *7 p.m. — Florence vs. Cameron Yoe-Lexington winner
*-time approximate, game will start 30 minutes after first game