DALTON, Ga. - Dominant pitching has been the trademark of Georgia Region 7-AAA softball over the years, but this season is all about the bats - particularly the long ball, as was apparent Tuesday in the region tournament at Dalton's Heritage Point Park.
In securing a place in Thursday's championship game, Heritage slugger Jesslyn Stockard hit a three-run homer to highlight a five-run sixth inning as the Generals (24-7) defeated top-seeded Allatoona, 6-2. Heritage will play the winner of Thursday's Allatoona/Ringgold game at 5.
Ringgold, which earlier in the day run-ruled Gilmer County 12-0, downed Dalton for the third time in a week, 5-1, in the night session to keep its region-title hopes alive. Sixth-seeded Dalton, which secured a state berth by defeating Pickens County, will be the region's fourth seed in the state playoffs.
Heritage, the defending region champ, jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Stockard's RBI triple but left the bases loaded twice in the first three innings. Allatoona tied the game on Morgan Kazerooni's solo homer in the third and went ahead on Bre Richey's RBI double in the fourth.
The Generals finally made Allatoona pitcher Tressa Watson pay in the sixth when, with runners at third and second with one out, Brandy Goldsmith put down a suicide squeeze bunt that ended up scoring both runners when Watson's throw eluded the catcher. Singles by Lauren Lawson and Kristin West preceded Stockard's deep blast well over the center-field fence, her second in three games at the tournament.
"Allatoona is an extremely strong club and they've become as much of a rival to us as our county teams are, so this is a great win for the girls," said Heritage coach Steve Chattin, whose team is assured of hosting at least the first round of the playoffs next Wednesday. "We left the bases loaded twice and those things normally come back to bite you, and when we got down 2-1 I was really concerned. But the girls rallied. They've really come together the past few games, and they've had a great week here."
Ringgold relied on two big homers in its wins Tuesday. Erica Burkhart drilled a grand slam against Gilmer and Hayley Robinson did the same against Dalton to break open a scoreless game in the third. It was Robinson's third homer against the Lady Catamounts in three wins the past week.
"Her moments seem to come against Dalton, or at least a lot of them have," Ringgold coach Rachel Hodge said. "I'm just really proud of our hitters. We did what we needed to do, but we've still got a lot of work to do.
"You want to host the state tournament. We're going to fight tooth and nail against Allatoona because we want to host. But we know they do, too. There are three great teams left in this tournament."