TUNNEL HILL —
Northwest Whitfield High School pitcher BriLeigh Baggett and her counterpart, LaGrange’s Emily Anderson, were in full control Wednesday night during their first-round series in the Class 4A state softball playoffs.
It was obvious a defensive play would make a big difference.
In the first game, LaGrange didn’t make the play when the opportunity presented itself, and that translated into a 1-0 Northwest win. In the second game, Lady Bruins’ freshman left fielder Alyssa Ward made the play on the way to Northwest’s 5-2 victory that swept the series and secured a spot in Wednesday’s second round.
With Northwest (30-6) — the No. 2 seed from Region 7-4A and the 2012 Class 4A state champion — leading 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning of Wednesday’s second game, LaGrange had runners at second and third when Taylor Livingston sent a shot to Ward.
One run scored, but Ward’s throw was on target to catcher Bayli Cruse, cutting down Karsin Spinks, and the lead had been protected.
“I have been having some pain in my arm, so I was surprised that I threw it that well,” Ward said. “I was scared at first when the ball was hit to me because I knew they would score at least one run.
“I just wanted to get an out, and when I got the ball I saw she was rounding third, and I thought, ‘I got this.’”
The Lady Bruins padded that lead with a pair of runs in the sixth to set up a series with the winner of Marist and Lumpkin County.
“That was my fault,” LaGrange coach Jan Jones said. “It was a line shot and Spinks was rounding third. They had to do everything right to get her out, and unfortunately for us they did.”
Pitchers were in command most of the night. Baggett, who finished with 14 strikeouts, threw six innings of no-hit ball to begin the first game. Anderson struck out 18 and recorded her 1,000th career strikeout.
Northwest coach Jason Brooker expected defense to be the difference.
“That is basically the way we have won a lot of games this year,” he said. “I have confidence in our ability to make routine plays, and every now and then you get the pressure play like Alyssa had tonight. Chances to score runs came at a premium tonight.”
The Lady Bruins won the opener by pushing across a run in the bottom of the fourth. Ward drew a one-out walk and stole second. Colbie Thomas hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Lauren Kuerzi, who looked Ward back to the bag, giving enough time for the speedy Thomas to beat Kuerzi’s throw. Ward then took off for third and Spinks’ throw sailed down the left-field line, allowing Ward to score.
In the nightcap, the Lady Bruins’ bats finally adjusted. A double from Thomas and an infield hit by Hannah Godfrey, along with a throwing error and an RBI double from Cruse, gave the Lady Bruins a 2-0 lead. Ashley Conner added a two-run single in the sixth.