Northwest Whitfield softball coach Jason Brooker isn’t taking anything for granted and didn’t want to talk about any possible rematches with Heritage-Catoosa. Senior pitcher Emily Boyd fully expects to see the Lady Generals again.
Either way, Thursday night’s Region 7-4A championship game was another part of the Lady Bruins’ battle cry of “T-C-B” — taking care of business.
The top-ranked Lady Bruins got back-to-back homers from Bayli Cruse and Ashley Conner in the bottom of the first inning, and Boyd made the lead hold up in a 3-2 victory in the region tournament final at Heritage Point in Dalton. It was the third region title in four years and second straight for Northwest, but the first with Brooker at the helm.
Boyd, The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Player of the Year the past three seasons, has been on the mound for each of those championships.
“Heritage is always a tough team to play, and if there is anyone that is going to give us trouble if we make it to Columbus — hopefully — then it is probably going to be Heritage,” said Boyd, who allowed the pair of unearned runs on four hits and struck out eight. “And that is probably going to be the state championship game, if I had to guess. We always have to adjust to them. We were able to make enough plays to win the game.”
While Boyd has confidence in her team returning to Columbus again in her final season — the Lady Bruins made it there in both 2009 and 2011, finishing in the top four each time — Brooker was preaching his philosophy of taking each step as it comes.
“After every step, we check it off, and this was one of our goals,” he said. “We talked before the game and said that we didn’t want to let them get ahead, and that is what we did. We were a little more aggressive at the start, but I was kind of afraid that once we got up we would take it for granted with double-zero (Boyd) out there.”
It was the second meeting between the two teams in as many days. Northwest (27-3), the top-ranked team in the Ga.PrepCountry
.com Class 4A coaches poll and a No. 1 seed for the region tournament, won by an identical score Wednesday in the winner’s bracket final.
Wednesday’s loss pushed Heritage into the consolation bracket, where the Lady Generals topped Dalton 10-1 in five innings on Thursday to book the rematch with Northwest. Dalton (13-17) will be the region’s No. 3 seed for the state playoffs, while Heritage (24-6-1) claims the No. 2 seed. Cedartown, which lost to Dalton on Wednesday, is the region’s No. 4 seed for the playoffs, which begin on Oct. 10.
Region 7 teams will face Region 6 teams in the first round of the playoffs, which is a best-of-three series.
In Thursday’s title game, Heritage — ranked No. 3 in the state and the fourth-place finisher at the Class 3A state tournament last year — pushed a runner to third in the top of the first, but Boyd got out of the jam and it was time for Northwest’s offense to shine.
Colbie Thomas drew a leadoff walk, stole second and went to third on a groundout by Hannah Godfrey. Cruse stepped in and smashed a two-run homer to left to chase Heritage starting pitcher Taylor Moran. Lauren Lawson, who had pitched the complete-game victory over Dalton earlier, entered and was greeted rudely by Conner, who blasted Lawson’s first pitch to almost the exact spot over the left-field fence.
Lawson got a grounder and a popout to end the inning, but the damage had been done.
“That was probably the most I have ever known that it was out when I hit it,” Conner said. “If we ever get hits and get (Boyd) a lead, she will pull it through for us.”
Cruse, the team’s catcher, said that is just the confidence the team has when they get an early lead.
“I am just calm when we are up,” Cruse said. “It is better than when we are down, and that helped to keep Emily calm on the mound.”
Heritage made it interesting, though. After giving up the runs in the first inning, the Lady Generals allowed just two more hits in the game and Northwest never seriously threatened to score again. However, a combination of hits for Heritage and defensive gaffs by the Lady Bruins gave Heritage two or more baserunners in four innings.
But Boyd and some timely defensive plays kept the Lady Generals at bay.
In the second, an error and a hit put two on with one out, but Boyd responded with a pair of strikeouts to end the inning. In the fourth Savannah Goldsmith tagged Boyd for a gapper, but Thomas, who also was the lone multiple-hit performer, cut Goldsmith down at second with a pinpoint throw from the fence to Conner covering at second. In the fifth, Heritage had runners at the corner with two outs, but Cruse picked Allison Walker off at third.
“We battled and were very competitive and I was proud that we stopped the bleeding in the first and kept it at three,” Heritage coach Steve Chattin said. “All four games we have played them, we have put runners in scoring position, but we haven’t been able to get the big hit, and a lot of that credit goes to Emily.”
The two runs Heritage did push across came on an error. Kristin West reached on a one-out error off of her grounder to third, and Moran followed with a double down the line in right. With runners at second and third, Boyd got a popout to second and appeared to get out of the inning with a fly to shallow center, but Thomas made the running grab.
Boyd got out of the inning without further damage on a grounder and then worked a pair of strikeouts around an error and a grounder back to the mound to end the game.
“I just think we really need to sharpen our defense just a little bit more and not be so timid with it,” Boyd said. “I think we are hitting the ball well enough to play and win against anyone. We just have to keep runners from crossing the plate with our defense.”
• Heritage 10, Dalton 1: The Lady Catamounts’ region tournament run ended against the same team that forced them to make a trip through the elimination bracket.
The Lady Generals, who beat Dalton 12-1 during the opening day of tourney action on Saturday, scored six runs in the third inning to break a 3-1 game into a rout. One more run in the fourth was the deciding factor in the game ending in five innings due to the mercy rule.
Freshman Carson Roberts pitched for the Lady Cats (13-17) and lasted 2 1/3 innings. Allie Blackwood threw the final 1 2/3, allowing one run.
Blackwood, a senior, drove in the lone run. After Sarah Stinnett reached on a single to start the game and Destinee Woods bunted her over to second, Blackwood put a single into the outfield to give Dalton a 1-0 lead. The same thing happened in the teams’ Saturday matchup — Dalton grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first but couldn’t get more offense going.
Despite the loss, the Lady Cats finished as the region’s No. 3 seed and will travel to play a No. 2 seed in the first round next week.
“The big thing with the No. 3 seed is you don’t have to play the No. 1 from the other region,” Dalton coach Jeff McKinney said. “We’re just looking for opportunities. It’s just winning these series now.”
• North Murray’s found its 2011 identity just in time and put together a three-win day at Ringgold’s Jack Maddox Recreation Complex to clinch a Class 3A playoff berth.
Now, the Lady Mountaineers (12-15) are another three-win day from winning the Region 5-3A title.
North Murray’s day started with a 5-2 win against Adairsville in the consolation bracket. Kara Deal pitched all seven innings, allowing just six hits and striking out one. Tori Stainton, Jocelyn Blair and Amber Bandy each had a hit, while Stainton and Bandy each drove in one run.
Then, with a spot on the state playoffs on the line, Hannah Hensley pitched a three-hit shutout to preserve a 1-0 win over Sonoraville.
Blair finished 2-for-3, and Stainton had a hit and the lone RBI, which came in the fourth. Third baseman Megan Pittman, who was injured earlier in the season, had 12 putouts.
“It’s kind of weird,” said North Murray coach Daphne Winkler, whose team had one of the lowest seeds for the tourney. “We lost the first game of the region tournament and had to fight our way through.”
Last season, North Murray rallied its season around the halfway point and was a surprise in earning the No. 4 seed from Region 7-2A. This season, the Lady Mountaineers liked No. 3 better than No. 4.
In what Winkler described as a “barn burner,” North Murray beat Cartersville 5-4 thanks to an RBI from Deal in the top of the seventh.
Hensley pitched all seven innings, striking out five and allowing nine hits. The Lady Mountaineers totaled 12 hits, with Hensley going 2-for-3 with a double and Deal finishing 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Pittman was 2-for-4 and Baylee Sutton finished 2-for-4 with an RBI.
“I really would like to brag about my defense. We had zero errors tonight and were rock solid,” Winkler said. “I feel like we could beat anybody the way we were playing tonight.”
North Murray plays Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe today at 5 p.m. with the loser claiming the No. 3 seed from the region. The winner will take on Ringgold at 7 p.m. in a region title matchup, but need to beat the Lady Tigers twice for the championship. If necessary, another game will take place at 9 p.m.
• Also at the Region 5-3A tournament, Coahulla Creek completed half of its task, but fell short of locking up a spot in the playoffs alongside North Murray.
The Lady Colts (11-17) beat Gordon Central 2-0 to stay alive, but lost 8-0 to Cartersville. Shelbe Dilbeck pitched a complete-game victory against Gordon Central and struck out 10 while allowing just five hits.
Haley Reece and Nikki Hollis each had hits, while Kala Franks and Lasha Hedden each walked and scored on an error by Gordon Central.
Dilbeck pitched four innings, allowing four earned runs off eight hits and two walks against Cartersville while striking out two. Hedden had the Lady Colts’ only two hits.
“We were one win away from going to the state playoffs,” Coahulla Creek coach Rhett Parrott said. “We’re a little disappointed in that. Overall, I think we got better this year and it’s something to build on.”
The squad only loses one senior, Victoria Hijar, and has two juniors, eight sophomores and two freshmen who should return.
“It’ll be good, because the girls will have two years experience now,” Parrott said. “It’ll be nice looking at North Whitfield (Middle) where there are some girls who can come in and compete for a spot right away. We’re excited for the future.”
• Murray County and North Murray did not report results from scheduled matches by The Daily Citizen’s deadline.
• Southeast Whitfield 22, Ooltewah (Tenn.) 6: Colter Faith ran for one touchdown and threw for another, while Tyler Brown chipped in a 5-yard touchdown run and Noah Ramsey rushed for a pair of two-point conversions as the Raiders (2-2) topped previously unbeaten Ooltewah (6-1).
Faith hit Brit Hasty on a 4-yard scoring pass and ran in from 30 yards out for his other touchdown. Faith also had an interception, while Hasty recovered a fumble and Thomas Keeble recovered an onside kick.
Ooltewah’s score came on a kickoff return.
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