From Staff Reports
With one swing, Bayli Cruse brought the softball rivalry between Northwest Whitfield and Heritage-Catoosa high schools — and the state-title picture — back in Northwest’s favor.
Cruse hit a grand slam in the third inning for a 5-4 lead and the Lady Bruins made it stick late Friday night to advance to today’s championship in the Class 4A state tournament at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus.
The Lady Bruins (35-6) play at 1 p.m. and could be in a rematch against the Lady Generals (32-8).
Northwest also could play Wayne County, which the Lady Bruins beat in the first round, or Madison County, which plays Wayne County today in an elimination game at 9 a.m. and also owns a bit of history with Northwest. The winner of Madison County and Wayne County faces Heritage at 11 a.m. in the losers’ bracket final, and that winner heads to the championship, where Northwest only has to win once. The Lady Bruins’ opponent must win twice.
“I wouldn’t be surprised (if it’s Heritage),” Northwest coach Jason Brooker said of a potential opponent, “but Madison County is still alive and Wayne County is, too, and they also have a good club. Nothing will surprise me.”
The Lady Bruins won last season’s state championship 2-1 in an extra inning against Madison County but lost this season’s Region 7-4A championship to Heritage, which scored two unearned runs in the top of the first inning Friday on a homer from Lauren Lawson.
“They were unearned because we dropped a foul ball she hit and then hit a home run,” Brooker said.
Cruse hit a solo homer in the bottom half of the inning, but the Lady Generals scored twice in the second for a 4-1 lead. In the third inning, Alyssa Ward, Colbie Thomas and Hannah Godfrey reached base in consecutive at-bats.
Cruse, who hit the game-winning homer to beat Madison County in last season’s title matchup, once again came through in the clutch.
With a 5-4 edge, Northwest pitcher BriLeigh Baggett held Heritage at bay as her defense didn’t make any additional errors. She pitched the entire game, allowing two earned runs off seven hits and three walks while striking out eight.
“Sometimes you make errors,” Brooker said. “There really isn’t a rhyme or reason. They’re kids. We buckled down.”
In the seventh, Baggett walked Lawson with one out. Brooker said the call was to “pitch around her.” The next batter struck out, but a single put two runners on base. However, a flyout to left fielder Macy Weeks ended the game.