RINGGOLD, Ga. — Two years ago, Ringgold High School had just enough softball players to field a team at the end of a rare losing season for the program.
Six of those 10 players are still on the field for Ringgold, which is headed to Columbus as one of the final eight teams remaining in the GHSA Class AAA bracket after sweeping through the first two rounds of the state playoffs. Wednesday's 8-0 and 14-0 wins against Tattnall County were further evidence Ringgold softball is alive and well.
"It means everything to make it back to Columbus," coach Daniel Hackett said. "You could tell they wanted it. These seniors had heard all about it, and the entire team has been working to make it happen. I'm so proud of them.
"Two years ago we had 10 players, and now we have 18 and they all contribute."
Ringgold's domination was complete for the second time in an eight-day span — the team has outscored its opponents 41-0 in four games in these state playoffs. Kaylee Phillips threw a six-inning, two-hit shutout in the first game Wednesday, and Taylor Thomas threw a three-hit shutout to finish the sweep.
Ringgold played error-free defense and had nine hits in the first game and 14 more in the second, though only four hits in all went for extra bases.
"Our pitchers have been outstanding," Hackett said. "Zero runs (allowed) in the playoffs so far, but they can't do it without that stellar defense. Also, this team is full of hitters. They absolutely love being in that moment at the plate."
Ringgold (25-3) wasted little time displaying its dominance, scoring four runs in the first inning of the opener on a double by Riley Nayadley, a single by Jade Gainer and a two-run single by Addy Broome. Ava Raby's two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth ended the game.
It took until the second inning of game two before Ringgold broke loose, using a wild pitch, an RBI single from Autumn Green and a sacrifice fly from Baleigh Pitts to go up 3-0. Shelby Cole, who hit two homers and drove in seven runs in a first-round sweep of Morgan County, opened the third with a solo shot to highlight a two-run inning.
It was still 5-0 in the sixth when Ringgold sent 14 batters to the plate, scoring nine runs on seven hits. Gainer, who totaled four hits, three stolen bases and four runs scored in the doubleheader, drove in two runs with a double, with Caroline Hemphill also plating two with a single in the big inning.
"We've been working since the beginning of the season to get to Columbus," Gainer said with a smile. "We've played together for like six years, so we feel like a family.
"We just think about it as one base at a time and one hit at a time. We don't get caught up in the moment, but we just go all out. We have heart and the soul to go all the way. We can be very dangerous in Columbus, and we're hungry, very hungry."
Tattnall County finished 12-20.
The double-elimination state championships are Oct. 24-26 at the Columbus Softball Complex.
* Also in AAA, Calhoun will join Ringgold in Columbus after sweeping at Rutland, 9-1 and 9-2. Erin Barnes hit a pair of home runs in game one, with Lyndi Rae Davis hitting one in each game. Maggie McBrayer earned both wins in the circle, going 14 innings and striking out 14 batters. Calhoun is 20-13, and Rutland finished 16-16.
* In Class AAAA, LaFayette split at Region 7 champion Hampton in a pair of one-run games, losing 3-2 before winning 5-4. Abby Sansing's groundout scored Railee Lynn for the winning run in game two. Lynn and Madison Pettigrew had two hits each in the win, with Nicky Yancy adding two RBIs for LaFayette (18-11). The deciding third game is Thursday at 4 p.m. at Hampton (19-9).
* In Class A public, Trion will make another trip to Columbus after sweeping ACE Charter, 12-7 and 5-1. Whitney Shepherd won both games in the circle for the Bulldogs (21-3), while Bailey Coker and Chloe Murdock knocked in two runs in each game. ACE Charter finished 24-8.
* In Class A private, Christian Heritage split at George Walton, losing 2-0 in game one before winning a 2-1 thriller in 10 innings in game two on Ansley Adkins' RBI single. Tatiana Chiesa did not allow an earned run in 17 innings for Christian Heritage (14-10) against George Walton (20-6).