DALTON, Ga. — Jamison Payne will look back someday and laugh at the first big highlight of her softball career. For now, the Northwest Whitfield freshman is just trying to remember what happened after her two-out walk-off home run lifted the Lady Bruins past Heritage, 3-2, in the winner's-bracket final of the Region 7-AAAA tournament.
Northwest (26-3) defeated Heritage (23-4-1) for the third time this season and has earned at least the region's No. 2 seed for next week's first round of the state playoffs. The Lady Bruins will face the winner of tonight's loser's-bracket final between Heritage and surprising Dalton at 7 in the championship game.
Payne's game-winning hit just cleared the left-centerfield temporary fence, with Heritage outfielder Allison Walker nearly catching it before knocking the piece of fence over. Payne stopped at second base before being told she had hit a homer, the first of her career.
"I thought it bounced over," Payne said. "I just wanted to hit the ball. I've never hit one before, but I guess this is a great place to do it."
Payne's heroic moment might not have happened if either of the two Lady Bruins hitting before her had reached base against Heritage pitcher Taylor Moran.
"I guess we're fortunate nobody got on because I would have pinch-hit for her with another girl who is our best bunter," Northwest coach Jason Brooker said. "Jamison has some pop in her bat and she got into one. We didn't play very well as a team, especially defensively. But, we did win and against a great team, so I'm happy about that."
Northwest senior ace Emily Boyd struck out 12 and allowed six hits, including two hits each by Moran and Savannah Goldsmith, with Savannah's fourth-inning single tying the game at 2. Freshman Moran gave up two runs in the second on Mallory Souther's run-scoring double and Carly Henson's RBI single, then matched Boyd the rest of the way until Payne's two-out homer.
Dalton (13-16) won a pair of games Wednesday to continue a shocking run to the state tournament. The Lady Catamounts, the last-place team in subregion B, defeated Cass, 3-0, then downed Cedartown, 3-1, and will finish no worse than the region's No. 3 seed. Senior Allie Blackwood starred in each game, pitching a three-hit shutout in game one and going 3-for-3 with a home run and two doubles in the second.
"Allie had a great night and this team just believes it's going to win right now," Dalton coach Jeff McKinney said. "We've worked on becoming mentally tougher, and so far it's paying off. Right now it's all about surviving, and we know we'll be playing next week."
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 ...