October 9, 2013

Dalton out, Northwest shut down in Region 7-4A softball tournament

Devin Golden

— Not once in last year’s run to the Class 4A title did the Northwest Whitfield High School softball team face an elimination game in any postseason tournament.

Get ready for the feeling, Lady Bruins.

After clinching a spot Monday in the Class 4A state playoffs, Northwest fell to the Region 7-4A tournament losers’ bracket Tuesday with a 9-0 mercy-rule loss in five innings to Heritage-Catoosa at the Heritage Point softball complex.

The Lady Bruins will play at 5 p.m. Thursday against River Ridge, which beat Dalton 8-0 and then edged Ridgeland 6-5 in two elimination contests. The winner secures playing at least one round of the state playoffs at home and earns the chance to beat the Lady Generals twice in a row and win the region title.

But Northwest is having trouble beating Heritage just once. The Lady Generals (25-5) swept the two regular season games to win Sub-region 7B’s No. 1 seed and demote the defending state champion Lady Bruins (26-5) to the No. 2 seed.

Tuesday’s result was the most lopsided of the three meetings between the two teams and Northwest’s worst loss by margin this season. The Lady Bruins are back-to-back region champions and won last year’s region and state titles without losing a game, never once being in a win-or-go-home scenario.

“Heritage didn’t win the region title or state title last year,” Northwest coach Jason Brooker said. “They seemed like they were hungrier. I didn’t see that hunger from us, and we had it last year.”

Will being in an elimination spot for the first time bring back the hunger?

“If it doesn’t, then something is wrong with us,” Brooker answered. “We don’t need to be playing if that doesn’t wake us up. I think we will respond well.”

Katie Pritchett’s three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning ended the game, but Heritage led from its first at-bat. Lauren Lawson, Heritage’s pitcher, drove in the game’s first run with a single in the first inning, and Shelby Hammon-tree followed with a two-run homer for a 3-0 lead. After a Northwest error, the Lady Generals scored twice more and led 5-0 after the first inning.

“It gave us a cushion that we didn’t have to be perfect on every pitch,” Heritage coach Steve Chattin said.

Lady Bruins pitcher BriLeigh Baggett calmed down, only allowing one baserunner through the next three innings. But Northwest’s offense only totaled three hits, with Bayli Cruse’s first-inning double the only extra-base hit.

In each of the first three innings, the Lady Bruins stranded one runner in scoring position.

“They just whipped our tails,” Brooker said. “There’s no nice way to put it.”

Baggett pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing six earned runs off eight hits and one walk. She struck out two.

• Dalton’s season ended one win shy of returning to the state playoffs.

The Lady Catamounts (12-21) threatened in the top of the first inning against the Lady Knights (19-9) with runners on second and third with just one out but stranded both runners.

River Ridge, 7A’s top seed, followed in the bottom half of the inning with three runs thanks to Kaitlyn Brack’s two-run triple and Kiley Rediger’s RBI ground out. The Lady Knights scored once in the third, two runs in the fourth and two in the sixth to end the game via mercy rule.

Dalton entered the tournament as 7B’s No. 5 seed but defeated teams seeded better and won three games before being eliminated. The Lady Cats only graduate two seniors, Destinee Woods and Eternity Goodman. Woods missed the whole year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

“They’ve got nothing to hang their heads about,” Dalton coach Stacy Parker said. “As young as we are, not many expected us to do this well. Just ending this tournament the way we did, I’m very proud of these girls. I’m already looking forward to next year.”

Alli Swinford pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs off 13 hits and two walks. She struck out two batters. Gabby Wright and Kylee Harris each went 2-for-3.