RINGGOLD, Ga. - There were no trophies to be won at the annual Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe softball tournament at the Jack Mattox recreation complex this weekend, but lessons learned in mid-August often lead to big things in October.
Just ask Jason Brooker and the Northwest Whitfield Lady Bruins, who started fast and never let up during last season's run to the Georgia Class AAAA championship. Northwest, with six returning starters, has picked right up where it left off after a 5-0 weekend showing that included wins over two other state champions and a runner-up.
The most impressive to Brooker was a come-from-behind 4-3 win over Ringgold, a Class AAA finalist last year. The Lady Tigers built a 3-0 lead going to the bottom of the fifth inning, but Northwest tied it with three runs, then won it on Mallory Souther's walk-off single in the seventh.
"We've got six seniors and there is no clock in this game, so there's no need to panic if you get down early," said Brooker, whose team also defeated Class AA champion Dade County, 6-4, and Class A champ Gordon Lee, 11-3, to go with 13-1 and 10-0 wins over North Murray and Harris County.
"We've got a pretty poised group. That was good for Mallory to get in that situation, and now she knows she can do it when the game's on the line."
Senior catcher Bayli Cruse was instrumental in the rally. Cruse, who ended last season with a walk-off homer in the AAAA title game, had a two-run single in the fifth and led off the seventh Saturday with a long double. A wild pitch and two intentional walks loaded the bases for Souther, who ended the game with a clean single to left.
Brileigh Baggett, replacing current Ole Miss Rebel Emily Boyd in the circle, scattered seven hits to earn the win, while veterans Ashley Conner and Macy Weeks reached base six times between them.
"We started off a little sluggish and Brileigh missed some time last week, so she's getting her timing back," Brooker said. "She kept us in the game, though, and we were able to get back in it. This was a good test for us, and you want to play teams like Dade County, Ringgold and Gordon Lee."
Two other impressive teams this weekend were Heritage and upstart LaFayette. The Generals, featuring only one senior, completed a 4-1 week by downing Dade County 8-0 and beating Sonoraville 4-1. Pitcher Lauren Lawson pitched a two-hitter against the Lady Wolverines, and Katie Pritchett and Olivia Tamewitz combined to go 5-for-8.
"We're still making some early-season mistakes," said Heritage coach Steve Chattin, whose team lost only to Ringgold and also defeated Gordon Lee and North Murray. "We missed a few signals and we're not as sharp as we need to be. We're still trying to determine our best combination in the last two or three spots, so weekends like this are important. Overall, though, it was a good weekend for us."
LaFayette improved to 10-0 with a 4-0 weekend, with wins over Sonoraville (6-4), Gordon Central (6-3), Coahulla Creek (5-3) and Dade County (9-5). Pitchers Savanna Reeves and Victoria Day each went 2-0 in the tournament, while Carlie Campbell, Summer Goins, Hannah O'Shields and Shelby Narmore had multiple-hit games.
"That's the big thing: We're hitting the ball right now," LaFayette coach Glen Woodard said. "We're not striking out much, so we're putting it in play. We're pretty young, but the talent is there."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.