When Northwest Whitfield’s softball team, which has plenty of postseason experience, walks onto the field, there are several things it knows it can count on.
The Lady Bruins know pitcher Emily Boyd will do plenty to give her team every chance to win. They know the defense — for the most part — will be solid.
Now they also know they have a freshman who hits last in the batting order but can deliver a walk-off homer in a pressure-packed situation.
Jamison Payne delivered a two-out, first-pitch bomb over the left-center field fence in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Lady Bruins a 3-2 win over Heritage-Catoosa on Wednesday in the Region 7-4A tournament’s championship bracket final at Heritage Point. The win put them into today’s Region 7-4A championship, where they’ll face either Dalton or Heritage at 7 p.m.
It was the first homer for the freshman, who splits time with two other players in the designated hitter slot for Northwest (26-3), the top-ranked team in the Ga.PrepCountry.com Class 4A coaches poll.
“It was just all a blur,” Payne said. “When I was in the on-deck circle, I was really nervous, and then I got used to it and said, ‘Hey, I have been doing this all of my life. Just hit the ball.’”
She didn’t waste any time when she got in the box. She teed off on the first pitch from Heritage’s Taylor Moran, who had given up two runs in the second inning when her outfield misplayed a fly ball in the gap.
“We had noticed earlier in the game that she was coming at us with a first-ball fastball and more often than not we were laying off of it,” Northwest coach Jason Brooker said. “I told her to look for it. She did, and as soon as she hit it, I knew it was gone.”
The Lady Bruins had already clinched a spot in the state playoffs on Tuesday, but now they’ll go for their third region title in four seasons.
Heritage (23-5-1) falls into the consolation bracket final and will face Dalton at 5 p.m. today. The winner of that game will have to beat Northwest twice to win the region title. The Lady Bruins (26-3) are guaranteed no worse than the region’s No. 2 seed in the state playoffs, meaning they’ll host for at least the opening round when the 4A tournament starts next week.
If the Lady Bruins are beaten tonight, a deciding championship game would be played at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Payne got her shot in the seventh for one big reason — the first two batters of the inning recorded outs.
“We have been rotating girls in our No. 9 slot, and Bayley Marquardt is our best bunter, so I guess you could say that I was glad that the first two girls in the inning made outs,” Brooker said. “Early in the season, we knew that (Payne) had some real promise. Early on, she had trouble sitting back and was ahead of everything. Now, I just tell her to not get impatient.”
It was understandable for all of the hitters to be a little impatient with the work on the mound from Boyd and Moran. Boyd struck out 12 and gave up five hits, while Moran allowed just five hits as well, working more to her defense than Boyd.
“This is what we all expected when you play Emily,” said Heritage coach Steve Chattin, whose team finished fourth in the state tournament last year. “I thought we did a good job of taking advantage of some things, but we have to come up with another win if we want another chance against them.”
The victory was the third of the year for Northwest against Heritage.