With one more loss, Northwest Whitfield High School’s softball team would’ve been done in the Region 7-4A tournament at the Heritage Point softball complex, and Heritage-Catoosa would have taken the region title the Lady Bruins were defending.
But the Lady Bruins got back to the one-run winning formula.
So they will play one more.
Northwest won 2-1 against River Ridge in the losers’ bracket final and then won 4-3 in the championship round against Heritage. Northwest and Heritage will play at noon Saturday in a winner-takes-all matchup for the region championship.
Trying for a three-peat of region championships, the Lady Bruins (28-5) trailed 2-1 through two innings against the Lady Generals (25-6). After only scoring five runs through the double-elimination tournament’s first three games, Northwest’s bats finally woke up.
Alyssa Ward — who would play a larger role later in the game — started the rally with a one-out single. Colbie Thomas moved Ward to third with a double and Hannah Godfrey’s infield single scored Ward. Bayli Cruse followed with an RBI double for a 3-2 Lady Bruins lead, and Ashley Conner added an insurance run with an RBI single.
A five-hit inning gave Northwest its best offensive production of the tournament.
Was the third inning when coach Jason Brooker set the alarm for the bats to wake up?
“I set the alarm clock a long time ago,” he said. “They’ve been hitting snooze.”
While the Lady Bruins didn’t get another runner in scoring position the rest of the game against Lady Generals pitcher Lauren Lawson, Northwest pitcher BriLeigh Baggett made sure that didn’t matter.
She allowed a run in the bottom of the third inning but stranded a Heritage runner at third base in the fourth and second base in the sixth. In the seventh, Baggett received some help from the Northwest defense.
Leading off the inning, the Lady Generals’ Brooklynn Frazier hit what would’ve been a double or triple down the right-field line. However, Ward, the right fielder, made a diving catch to prevent either result from happening.
“I knew if I missed it, the hitter would get second or third,” Ward said. “I saw it falling and decided to just go for it. I told (center fielder) Colbie, ‘I’m going to dive for a ball.’ She said, ‘You better catch it.’”
Cruse and Ward each finished the game 2-for-3, while Thomas went 2-for-4.
This was the same Heritage team that beat Northwest 9-0 via mercy rule on Tuesday after scoring five innings in the first inning. The Lady Bruins scored the first run Thursday when Thomas started the game with a double and scored from third on a pop up to second base.
“We didn’t do a good job tonight in a couple defensive spots,” Lady Generals coach Steve Chattin said. “Offensively, we didn’t have some people come through for us.”
After Northwest took a 1-0 lead, Heritage responded in the bottom of the first with a two-run home run from Lawson. Unlike Tuesday, the Lady Bruins didn’t give in when falling behind. It was the first win over Heritage in four meetings this season.
“The other day, we got down and I didn’t see any fight,” Brooker said. “If we lose but we’re going down fighting, being good teammates and supporting each other, I’m OK with that. I didn’t see that Tuesday. I saw that tonight.”
Baggett had a long day, pitching all of both games and allowing four runs off nine hits while striking out 10 batters.
Against River Ridge, she escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam in the bottom of the first inning. Mallory Souther came through with an RBI single in the third to drive in Conner and Godfrey’s RBI single in the sixth brought home Kylee Ward for a 2-0 lead.
The Lady Knights (19-10) didn’t score until the sixth when Katelyn Brack drove in Jessica Baker. With Emma Pope pinch running for Brack at first and just one out, Kiley Rediger landed a base hit to left-center field. Northwest left fielder Macy Weeks cut it off and made a perfect throw to third, where Souther tagged Pope.
“It was right to my glove,” Souther said. “She threw it right to me.”
Godfrey went 3-for-4 in the win against the Lady Knights, which rewarded the Lady Bruins with at least one best-of-three series at home in the Class 4A state playoffs.