TUNNEL HILL —
Saturday’s one-game, winner-take-all conclusion to the Region 7-4A high school softball tournament had just about everything — extra innings, a bloody nose, multiple comebacks and a late-game controversy.
The only thing missing was a Northwest Whitfield victory.
Heritage-Catoosa scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and won 8-7 to capture the region championship on the Lady Bruins’ field. The tournament, which was played all week at the Heritage Point softball complex in Dalton, finished at Northwest because the Georgia Special Olympics were held Saturday at the complex. The two teams played Thursday and the Lady Bruins won 4-3 to force the deciding contest.
Using the international tiebreaker during the extra inning — where the batting team starts the inning with a runner on second base — Northwest (28-6) scored two runs. Freshman right fielder Alyssa Ward’s two-out single drove in Macy Weeks, and a batter later, Colbie Thomas drove in pinch runner McCall Carlock.
Ward tried to score from second but center fielder Olivia Tamewitz’s throw to catcher Shelby Hammontree ended the inning.
Going against Northwest pitcher BriLeigh Baggett, Heritage’s Brooklynn Frazier walked and she advanced to second with Katie Pritchett going to third on a wild pitch. Ali Roberts’ bunt resulted in an error by the Lady Bruins and one run for the Lady Generals, who now had runners at second and third and trailing 7-6 with no outs.
The next play became the contentious moment. Baggett fielded Shea Headrick’s squeeze bunt and threw home to catcher Bayli Cruse, who appeared to tag a sliding Frazier before reaching home. However, the umpire ruled Cruse didn’t keep control of the ball and Heritage (26-7) tied the game.
“I never saw it come out,” Northwest coach Jason Brooker said. “(The umpire) said it came out. I don’t know if it was all the way in her mitt, but it was there and it was still. You could see a lot of the ball, but it never moved.”
With Brooker and Cruse arguing with the home-plate umpire, who had a bloody nose all game after being hit by a ball during pre-game warm-ups, Roberts and Headrick advanced to second and third base.
“That’s on the kids,” Lady Generals coach Steve Chattin said. “That’s nothing I did. They noticed that and did it on their own. That allowed for something else to happen later on.”
The next batter popped up to the infield, and Brooker called for an intentional walk when Tamewitz stepped up, hoping to load the bases for a force play at the plate. But the intentional walk attempt resulted in a wild pitch, and Roberts scored to end the game.
“The intentional walk, I take all the blame because we never practice that,” Brooker said. “It’s something we never do and it looked like it.”
Northwest, which won the previous two region titles and last year’s Class 4A state championship, entered this year’s region tournament as Sub-region 7B-4A’s No. 2 seed. Heritage was the sub-region’s top seed. The Lady Bruins still host in the state playoffs’ first best-of-three series, which starts Wednesday against Region 5 No. 3 seed LaGrange, but they aren’t guaranteed another home series in the second round. The Lady Generals will host in both the first and second round should they advance.
Northwest earned a 3-0 lead in the second inning when Baggett’s groundout drove in Weeks. Ward reached on an error and Mallory Souther and Kylee Ward each scored. Heritage responded with a run in the third and four runs in the fourth. Northwest made the score 5-4 in the sixth when Ward’s sacrifice fly brought home Weeks, and the Lady Bruins tied the game on Cruse’s single to drive in Thomas.
Heritage had a runner in scoring position in all eight innings, including the seventh, but only scored in three of those innings.
“We left a tremendous amount of runners on base,” Chattin said.
Baggett pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowing three earned runs off 13 hits and five walks. She struck out four. Thomas finished 2-for-5, and Cruse went 2-for-4.