DALTON, Ga. - When two of the top three ranked teams in a state reside in the same region, it seems only logical those two will get to know each other well over the course of a softball season.
Tonight at Heritage Point Park, top-ranked Northwest Whitfield and third-ranked Heritage will meet for the third time this season in the winners-bracket final of the Georgia Region 7-AAAA tournament. It likely won't be the last time if Tuesday's impressive showings are any indication.
Northwest (25-3) cruised to a 9-0 win over Cass in five innings, and Heritage (23-4-1) also needed only five innings to dispatch subregion A top seed River Ridge, 10-2. The winners secured berths in the Class AAA state tournament, but each wants much more.
"We came in not knowing much about Cass or River Ridge, but we know Heritage is a very good team, so I guess this doesn't surprise me," said Northwest coach Jason Brooker, whose team won the first two meetings with the Generals. "We took care of business tonight, and though you don't like to look ahead, it's been in the back of my mind that we would have to beat them for the region title."
Cass and River Ridge join Cedartown and Dalton as the final four teams for the other two postseason spots. Cedartown scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to eliminate Ridgeland, 5-4, and upstart Dalton held off Pickens County, 7-3.
River Ridge faces Cedartown while Dalton goes against Cass at 5 this evening, the winners of those games also earning playoff berths.
Earlier Tuesday, Cedartown eliminated Southeast Whitfield, 5-2; Ridgeland did the same to Walker County rival LaFayette, 9-6; and Pickens topped Gilmer County, 5-1.
Northwest rode the one-hit, 12-strikeout pitching of Emily Boyd, a home run and two RBIs from Bayli Cruse and two hits and three RBIs from Ashley Conner to subdue Cass. The Lady Bruins broke open a one-run game with eight runs in the third inning.
Heritage had 11 hits, including fourth-inning two-run homers from Kristin West and Savannah Goldsmith, in downing River Ridge (14-8-1). West had two hits and scored three runs, while Goldsmith was 2-for-3 with four RBIs and two runs scored.
"We're swinging the bats awfully well, and it's nice to know at least we've qualified for the state," Heritage coach Steve Chattin said. "We've got to do a better job defensively and putting people away. Sooner or later we're going to have to win a game with pitching and defense.
"I guess we're where we all expected to be, facing Northwest tomorrow in the winners-bracket final. Now we just have to find a way to win."