This story was updated at 12:07 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, with more information.
RINGGOLD, Ga. — If you have to wait two days to decide a state championship, you might as well do it in dramatic fashion.
Heritage (29-6) scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning against Marist, then turned a triple play in the bottom half to successfully defend its GHSA Class AAAA softball championship Monday. All championship-round games were moved to higher-seeded home sites after rain Saturday in Columbus forced play to halt.
Ringgold had a tougher run to the Class AAA title. The Lady Tigers lost their first game in Columbus, then won out, including a pair of wins Monday at Franklin County. They rallied for five runs in the fifth inning of game one to turn around a 5-2 deficit in a 7-5 win. Game two entered the eighth inning tied at 1 before Amber Gainer hit a two-out solo home run.
Kaylee Phillips finished off a five-hitter in the bottom half as Ringgold completed the comeback.
Heritage picked up where it left off when Saturday's game was halted, tied at 3 with the Generals batting and runners on third and first with no one out. One run scored on a passed ball and two crossed on RBI hits from Madeline Stone and Lexi Duckett.
Marist, though, opened the bottom of the seventh by getting runners to third and second on a pair of Heritage errors. Bailey Davis then caught a short fly ball to right, but the Marist runner on second was caught in a rundown and tagged out. Meanwhile, the runner on third raced for home but was gunned down by shortstop Zoe Wright for the title-clinching triple play.
"I've never seen anything like that," Heritage coach Tanner Moore said with a smile. "It was a nightmare start to the inning with those errors, but thankfully the girls have such awareness they could make those plays to end it."
Junior pitcher Rachel Gibson, who pitched each of the innings in the Generals' four wins, said Moore calmed the team down after the rough start to the last inning.
"Coach Moore came out there and talked to us. Don't worry about those two runs and just get three outs," Gibson said. "I was just focused on getting one out, but I turned around and Zoe was tagging the girl out at second and then threw the other one out at the plate. That's an amazing way to win it!"
Riley KoKinda, who scored the go-ahead run in the top of the inning, had three hits, with Stone knocking in a pair two runs.
Ringgold (31-4) earned its first championship since 2006 the hard way. After falling to Southeast Bulloch in Thursday's opening round, the Lady Tigers won games over Lumpkin County, East Hall, region rival Calhoun and Lovett before reaching the title round. They trailed in three of those games, including 7-1 to Calhoun.
"We didn't expect that going into day one, but we weren't going to let that one game beat us," Ringgold coach Daniel Hackett said. "We felt like at some point our hitting was going to come around, and when it did it wouldn't stop."
Ringgold opened Monday's continued first game up 7-5 after the five-run fifth inning. Taylor Thomas, in relief of Phillips, pitched the final five innings, allowing one run on two hits. Riley Nayadley, Jade Gainer and Ava Raby each knocked in two runs.
Game two was a pitching battle between Phillips and Franklin County's Jayden Gailey. Nayadley put Ringgold up 1-0 with a homer in the fourth, but Sarah York's RBI single in the fifth tied it.
Each team squandered scoring chances in the late innings, including a would-be Franklin County title-winning line drive with a runner on third that Taylor Layne caught to end the seventh. Gainer then put the go-ahead run on the board with her line-drive homer to center field the next inning.
"In the bottom of the seventh when their girl hit the line drive, we had girls come into the dugout with tears in their eyes, just the relief that it wasn't over," Hackett recalled. "We knew the top of our order was going to get back up, and Amber, our leadoff, just did it. Everybody exploded."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22