DALTON, Ga. - It may have taken their worst game of the season to bring the Northwest Whitfield Lady Bruins together, and if that's the case, softball coach Jason Brooker won't complain.
Two days after losing a five-inning 8-0 Region 7-AAAA winners-bracket final game to Heritage, Northwest won two one-run games Thursday, including a 4-3 win over Heritage, to set up a championship-deciding game Saturday. That game, set for noon, will be played at Northwest due to the Special Olympics being held at the tournament's site at Heritage Point Park.
"We had a little talk yesterday about playng as a team and supporting each other, whether we win or lose," Brooker said. "We want everybody involved and supporting each other, and I hadn't really seen that in the past week or so. In these two games I saw it. I was very pleased with the effort today."
After edging south subregion champion River Ridge 2-1 in the first game Thursday, the Lady Bruins (28-5) spotted Heritage (25-7) a 2-1 lead on Lauren Lawson's first-inning two-run homer. Northwest, though, scored three in the third, helped in large part by an ill-advised attempt to cut down the inning's second run at the plate on a slow ground ball.
Bayli Cruse, who plated the game's first run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the first, followed with an RBI double and Ashley Conner made it 4-2 with a single to left. After the Generals made it a one-run game in the bottom half on Lawson's sacrifice fly, Northwest pitcher BriLeigh Baggett took charge, allowing only two walks the rest of the way and finishing with six strikeouts.
Heritage was robbed of a rally attempt in the seventh inning when Northwest right fielder Alyssa Ward made a diving catch of Brooklynn Frazier's drive to open the inning.
"That catch by Alyssa was as good as any I've seen, and it definitely saved the game for us," Brooker said. "And BriLeigh, I thought, got better as the game went on. She was very strong for us tonight. It was a big hurdle for her to clear. Her pitching like that will be big for her down the road."
Heritage, the regular-season north champion, now must win on the road to claim the region title and the right to possibly host two playoff series.
"It's hard to beat a team like that four times in a row," Heritage coach Steve Chattin said. "We made some bad defensive decisions in a couple of spots, and the bottom of the order did not hit the ball. We had opportunities to win and we didn't. Lawson had a heck of a game at the plate and pitching. They made great plays and we messed up some routine ones."
Thomas, Cruse and Ward had two hits each for the winners, while Olivia Tamewitz had two hits and scored twice for the Generals.
In the earlier win over River Ridge, Hannah Godfrey was 3-for-4 and knocked in the deciding run with a sixth-inning single to relegate the Lady Knights to the region's third seed for the playoffs.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.