The roles are reversed.
Can Northwest Whitfield High School’s softball team reverse its regular season results against rival Heritage-Catoosa?
Heritage’s Lady Generals swept the home-and-home series between the two teams this season — 6-5 on Sept. 10 in Ringgold and 6-3 on Sept. 26 in Tunnel Hill — and went 9-1 in Sub-region 7B-4A competition to earn the No. 1 seed for the Region 7-4A tournament. That competition begins today at the Heritage Point softball complex in Dalton, and Dalton and Southeast Whitfield will also be in the 11-team bracket.
Dalton is the No. 5 seed from Sub-region 7B-4A and will face Gilmer, Sub-region 7A-4A’s No. 4 seed, at 11 a.m. The winner ad-vances to play Heritage at 1 p.m. Southeast is the No. 6 seed from 7B and will face Pickens, 7A’s No. 3 seed, at 11 a.m. The winner moves on to play Northwest at 1 p.m.
The other first-round matchup is Cass, the No. 5 seed from 7A, facing 7B No. 4 seed LaFayette at 11 a.m. The winner plays River Ridge, 7A’s No. 1 seed, at 1 p.m.
Cedartown, 7A’s No. 2 seed, matches up with 7B No. 3 seed Ridgeland in the other second-round matchup at 1 p.m.
Two other regions with softball teams from Murray and Whitfield counties begin their double-elimination tournaments today. Murray County is in the Region 7-2A tournament at Alto Park in Rome, while Coahulla Creek and North Murray compete in the Region 5-3A tournament at Hamilton Crossing in Adairsville.
The top four finishers in each tournament earn a spot in their respective classification’s state playoffs.
Northwest won the past two region titles and took the Class 4A state championship last year, when the Lady Bruins went undefeated against all of their sub-region and region competition.
That included beating Heritage twice in the regular season and twice in the region tournament.
Northwest coach Jason Brooker believes winning twice in the regular season against Heritage provided his team some confidence heading into last year’s tournament — with a caveat.
“We knew they could beat us if we didn’t play our best,” he said.
Now the Lady Bruins (24-4) are the ones trying to nullify regular-season history while the Lady Generals (22-5) hope it plays a part in how the tournament shakes out. Heritage clinched its No. 1 seed with its last victory against Northwest, which went 8-0 against other league foes to claim the sub-region’s No. 2 seed for the region tournament.
“I am not sure that the two wins gives us any advantage,” Lady Generals coach Steve Chattin said. “We know they are a good club and we believe they respect us like we respect them.”
Along with piling up wins against sub-region foes, the two teams piled up all-region team selections, claiming eight of the sub-region’s 14 spots as selected by coaches. Northwest catcher Bayli Cruse was named Region 7-4A Player of the Year, while Heritage’s Lauren Lawson was voted Pitcher of the Year. Other Lady Bruins who made the team are pitcher BriLeigh Baggett, outfielders Colbie Thomas and Macy Weeks, and shortstop Ashley Conner.
Cruse believes that, like last season, Heritage and Northwest are a level above the other teams.
“We’re not nervous or overconfident to play them,” she said. “I think it’s just such a big game. Our errors hurt us when we played them. Come region tournament, it’ll be our turn.”
Each of the past two seasons, Dalton’s Lady Catamounts (9-17) entered the region tournament with a low seed but earned a berth in the state playoffs.
“When the region tournament starts, everyone is on equal ground again,” said Dalton coach Stacy Parker, who is in his first season with the Lady Cats. “That’s the way you present it to your girls. I guess it just depends on the group of girls you have. ... If we come out and hit the ball and not kill ourselves on defense, we’re definitely capable of reaching the state tournament.”
Southeast (7-17) faces the same task, and if the Lady Raiders play as well as they did during a 1-0 loss to Northwest this past Monday, they could be this year’s surprise.
“Like I told my kids, it doesn’t matter what happened in the season until now,” Lady Raiders coach Kelley Barton said. “To play that well against a good team like Northwest, I think it was a positive step heading into the region tournament.”