DALTON, Ga. — Rachel Hodge's worst fear was realized in the first inning of her Ringgold softball team's Region 7-AAA game Tuesday at Dalton, but by the end there was nothing but laughter for the Lady Tigers.
After the hosts took a 2-0 lead in a sloppy first inning, Ringgold pounded out 17 hits in a 14-2 win that keeps the Lady Tigers (15-9, 7-2) in line for a top-four seed in the region tournament, which starts Saturday. They had not taken the field since Friday, and with the school's indoor hitting facility blown away by April's tornado, Hodge feared the bats would be slow and the focus not quite there.
"I expected for us to not come out as crisp as we wanted to be since we haven't been on the field since Friday," she said. "We have to be ready to go and be mentally tough, and that's what I challenge my girls with every day. After that first inning they were ready."
Ericka Burkhart led the attack with four hits and three RBIs, and Hayley Robinson and Ericka Bynum each belted a homer among three hits and drove in three and four runs. Robinson's solo shot got the Ringgold scoring started in the second, and Burkhart's fourth-inning RBI single put the Lady Tigers ahead to stay. Bynum's three-run homer in the sixth put the game away for good.
"It's kind of been like this for a while for us," Burkhart said. "We don't get to hit a lot during practice, but for some reason when one person gets a big hit, we all follow. The key for this team is to be there mentally. If we do that and play together, we have a great shot at reaching the playoffs."
Ringgold, with eight of the same starters, came from the middle of the region pack last year to earn the 7-AAA tournament runner-up spot and an eventual trip to the Elite Eight in Columbus. Can they pull another surprise?
"We've got to continue this play next week," Hodge said. "I'll take 17 hits every day, and we have to keep hitting this way. Our pitching has been strong and our defense, especially today, was good. If we play like this, I like our chances."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...