TUNNEL HILL, Ga. - The ending was a bit hairier than Richie Wood might have wanted, but the end result was the statement the second-year Ridgeland High School softball coach was expecting.
Thursday's 9-6 win at Northwest Whitfield -- secured after building a 9-1 lead -- officially announced the Lady Panthers as being ready to contend in Region 7-AAAA. They have had 44 hits in their last four games and scored early and often against the two-time defending state champs.
The bottom three in the Ridgeland lineup produced six hits, four RBIs and three runs scored.
"It's a very important game for tournament seeding and for our confidence," Wood said. "Beating the two-time defending state champions with a good pitcher on the mound says a lot about the girls. We came in wanting to hit right away and just play good ball. We did until the last inning and I think we got ahead of ourselves there, but that's coaching and I've got to work on that with the girls."
Ridgeland (7-4, 5-2) jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning against Northwest pitcher BriLeigh Baggett on freshman Haley Sandridge's two-run triple and an error, and sophomore catcher Cortney Mooneyham scored a run in the second inning and batted in one in the third. Four of the first five runs were produced with two outs.
"My freshman year we came in here really scared, but today we came in relaxed and we knew we could take them," said Mooneyham, who had three of the Lady Panthers' 11 hits. "We can take a lot of confidence from this win."
The margin was eight entering the bottom of the seventh when Northwest (9-7, 3-4), which lost six seniors to graduation off its latest title team, showed some life. Ridgeland pitcher Allison Wallin had been cruising to that point with a one-hitter, but a leadoff double and two singles plated one run and Alyssa Ward doubled home two with one out.
Shelby Ralston's double made it 9-5 and Kayla Bearden's bases-loaded walk made it a three-run game, but Wallin finally ended the game with a line drive to right field.
"I've got a very good team, but we've got to learn to finish games," Wood said with a deep breath. "We've had that issue a couple of times and we've got to get mentally tougher. Everyone on this team can hit, and they're getting more and more confident."
Sandridge and Dana Whittington added two hits each for Ridgeland, while Ward had two of Northwest's six hits.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.