RINGGOLD, Ga. - It was not surprising to see Rachel Hodge smiling after her Ringgold Lady Tigers won Thursday's deciding first-round Class AAA softball playoff game with North Oconee. But it wasn't just the 5-0 win that made the coach light up; it was the way her team played.
Ringgold (26-6), which will host Dawson County in next Wednesday's best-of-three second-round series, won behind another solid outing from senior pitcher Brittany Portwood, just enough timely hits and a defense capable of pulling out tight games.
"We were hustling defensively today, and it made a difference," Hodge said after watching her team play errorless ball, turn two double plays and make several highlight-reel plays. "Brittany pitched 16 really good innings in this series, and she was in control today from the start."
Senior Lacey Loy gave Portwood the only run she would need with a two-out RBI single in the first inning, but the Lady Tigers stranded six runners over the next four innings as North Oconee pitcher Hannah Harden continued to keep the Lady Tigers off balance with a steady diet of changeups.
The Titans (16-19) had chances, but double plays in the first and fourth innings killed rallies, as did Ringgold catcher Jessica Goldsmith's diving catch of a foul pop with a runner at second and one out in the fifth. That momentum carried over to the sixth, when Ringgold finally got to Harden.
After two quick outs to open the inning, No. 9 hitter Aimee Davidson walked and fellow freshman Abby McKinney singled. Devan Brown, whose bat up to this point had been quiet, singled in both runners and senior Ericka Bynum finished the Titans off with a two-run homer to center.
"I think the first game yesterday was kind of a wakeup call for us," Bynum said of the 3-2 loss. "We were nervous for some reason, but we talked about it afterward and just decided to play our game. If we can play like we did the last two games, we can go a long way."