November 3, 2013

State Champs: An offensive defense

Bats return as Northwest is repeat champ

By Devin Golden
devingolden@daltoncitizen.com

— COLUMBUS — With her team ahead a run in the top of the sixth inning, Northwest Whitfield High School’s Macy Weeks hit what appeared to be a harmless two-out single against Heritage-Catoosa.

Then the Lady Bruins followed with another hit — and another and another.

Northwest’s bats finally woke up as the Lady Bruins slugged their way to another Georgia High School Association Class 4A softball state championship.

Facing Heritage in a winner-take-all title matchup Saturday at the South Commons Softball Complex, Northwest exploded with a string of two-out hits in the sixth inning and extended a one-run lead to a five-run edge. The Lady Bruins added another run in the seventh — they scored at least once in every inning — on their way to a 12-6 victory that gave them back-to-back state titles.

Heritage beat Northwest 6-4 in the first game of the championship round Saturday afternoon at the double-elimination tournament. However, because the Lady Bruins had advanced from the winners’ bracket — they beat Heritage 5-4 Friday in the winners’ bracket final — the Lady Generals needed two wins to secure the championship.

The trouble for Heritage (33-9), which beat Madison County 2-1 in Saturday’s losers’ bracket final to reach the championship round, was all of those Northwest (36-7) bats blocking the path.

“It all came together at once, and that was great,” said senior center fielder Colbie Thomas, who finished the two games 3-for-7 and scored four runs.

Northwest’s offensive outpouring throughout the second game was surprising considering the Lady Bruins had averaged 3.3 runs per game in the 16 games leading up to the eight-team state tournament, which began Thursday. (In addition to Friday’s win against Heritage, Northwest beat Wayne County 3-1 and Madison County 5-0 on Thursday.)

The last time Northwest had scored in double digits was in a 10-1 win against Chattooga on Sept. 14. Lady Bruins coach Jason Brooker, who won a state title for the second time in as many years leading the program, was glad to see the turnaround happen when it did.

“No lead is safe against (Heritage),” Brooker said. “They’re a great team, a well-coached team and they play the game the right way.”

With Ashley Conner on first with two outs in the sixth, Weeks laced a single to left field. Mallory Souther followed with a single, driving in Conner, and Jamison Payne brought home Weeks with a double. Northwest pitcher BriLeigh Baggett then launched a two-run double to left-center field to finish the biggest inning of a 14-hit game for the Lady Bruins, who got their 12th run from Bayli Cruse’s seventh-inning single, which scored Thomas.

“Those runs made me feel like I didn’t have to strike everyone out,” said Baggett, who threw a no-hitter in Thursday’s win against Madison County.

Baggett had two strikeouts in the decisive game and allowed three earned runs on six hits. Northwest’s defense committed three errors, aiding Heritage in scoring its first three runs, but avoided any miscues from the fourth inning onward.

Thomas, the Lady Bruins’ leadoff hitter, scored on a wild pitch in the first inning for a 1-0 lead, which disappeared quickly when the Lady Generals scored in their first at-bat. Payne, who went 2-for-2 with three runs scored, made it 2-1 in the second after another wild pitch from Heritage’s Lauren Lawson.

Conner’s RBI single in the third brought home Hannah Godfrey, but Heritage tied the game 3-3 in its next at-bat. Thomas’ single scored Payne for a 4-3 lead in the fourth, and Baggett made it 5-3 in the fifth when her double scored Weeks. Payne scored on a wild pitch and Kayla Bearden, who was pinch-running for Baggett, scored on Alyssa Ward’s infield single for a 7-3 advantage.

Heritage put together its best inning in a three-run fifth as Katie Pritchett had an RBI double and Ali Roberts added a two-run double to cut Northwest’s lead to 7-6. But the Lady Generals had threatened the 2013 Lady Bruins for the last time.

The Region 7-4A rivals played eight times this season, and Heritage won five of those games. The Lady Generals came out on top in four of the first five meetings, including a 9-0 mercy-rule win in the region tournament and the winner-takes-all matchup for the region championship three weeks ago.

Northwest scored more runs in Saturday’s final game than in any of its other matchups with Heritage this year. Conner believes experience mattered.

“Considering they’ve pitched (Lawson) against us like eight times now,” she said, “maybe we finally figured her out.”

Lawson, who pitched the entire first game plus the earlier win against Madison County, lasted six innings and was replaced by Hannah Wills after a leadoff walk to Thomas in the seventh.

“She’s our ace,” Heritage coach Steve Chattin said, “and we rode her as long as we could.”

In Saturday’s first game, both teams scored once in the first inning, and Northwest scored three runs in the bottom of the third for a 4-1 lead as Weeks and Souther had back-to-back RBI singles and Weeks later scored on a wild pitch.

Heritage responded with a run in the fourth and tied the game 4-4 in the fifth. The Lady Generals took a one-run lead in the seventh on Olivia Tamewitz’s RBI double and Lawson added an RBI double to stretch the advantage.

Baggett pitched a complete game in the opener, allowing 10 hits as she took the loss.