Ellabell, GA -- Going into the season Bryan County softball Coach Jason Roundtree said if his team had a weakness it was on defense.
That concern came bubbling to the surface Thursday night when the Redskins committed six errors including a crucial two-out boot in the 10th inning to pave the way to a 6-4 win by Portal in a Region 3A matchup at Hendrix Park.
The game was tied 3-3 after seven innings before the Panthers (5-4, 3-1) pushed across three runs in the 10th to grab the win.
It was a bittersweet loss for Bryan County (4-2, 2-1), which was playing its third game in as many days following a three-week layoff due to COVID-19.
Junior righthander Hayden Joyner (3-2), who threw 162 pitches, was working on her fourth straight scoreless inning and when she got the first two batters in the 10th, it looked like she was home free.
Unfortunately, a ground ball was booted and the opportunistic Panthers took advantage as Jaycee Sanchez followed with a single and Maggie Brannen then doubled to make it 6-3 and that was all it took behind the six-hit pitching of Riley Lamb.
Joyner and Lamb both put on a pitching display as Joyner struck out 13 and Lamb 14.
Joyner now has 56 strikeouts in 32.1 innings.
Both teams were scoreless in the first three innings before the Panthers broke the ice with a run in the top of the fourth.
Bryan County evened it in its half on Bekah Johnson’s one out double and then took a 2-1 lead in the fifth on Mackensie Bailey’s home run to center on an 0-1 count.
Portal got two in the sixth but the Redskins came right back to tie it as Johnson singled with two outs and eventually scored on an error.
That was the way it stood until the 10th.
In addition to concerns about his defense Roundtree also said it was crucial for the Redskins, who have an 11-player roster, to keep his big three of all-staters Johnson, Joyner and Kenzie Mobley healthy and in the lineup.
Mobley, who starts at shortstop and gives Bryan County a solid No. 2 pitcher, did not play against Portal and has now missed four consecutive games starting with the Richmond Hill game when she was out with COVID related issues.
Joyner has held up her end of the bargain on the mound and Johnson, who rarely gets a good pitch to hit, is batting .611 (11-18) with 11 RBI.
In a 19-4 win over Claxton on Wednesday night, Johnson drove in seven runs on a pair of home runs, one grand slam.
Megan Beck and Amber Gray are both off to strong starts with Beck hitting .500 (10-20) and Gray is at .455 (10-22).
Bryan County faces a strong test Saturday when it goes to Emanuel County Institute for a 10:30 a.m. start.
The Redskins are the defending region champions, having ended ECI’s run of six straight titles.