Two top contenders and rivals went battled like it could’ve been a region championship game on Thursday as it may well a preview of one.

Calhoun and Sonoraville dealt big blows on the diamond with the Lady Jackets gaining an early lead and Sonoraville battling back to tie and force extras. But Calhoun got a clutch eighth-inning, two-out single from senior Molly Walker to drive in the game-winning run and send her team to a 4-3 victory on their home field.

Calhoun coach Diane Smith said she knew Sonoraville would fight back after her team earned a 3-0 lead early in the game, but she was confident her Lady Jackets would have an answer to close out the win.

“Any time we play Sonoraville, I just expect them to get a big hit like that even when we have a lead,” said Smith. “We went up on them in the first, but I knew we still had a long way to go and just like I though they would Sonoraville fought back to tie it. But we were able to play great defense and make great pitches from that point on, and (Molly’s) hit was so big in a big spot. I asked her earlier if I could use her in a pinch-hitting role in the game, and she said she felt good about it. She batted a couple innings earlier and put the bat on the ball for an out so I felt confident about her hitting again in the eighth. And she came through for us. I’m happy and proud for her to get a hit like that in such a big game.”

Calhoun (9-2, 7-2 in 6-AAA) jumped on top early to grab the momentum as they loaded the bases in the bottom of the first and Audrey Wilbanks delivered a two-out, two-RBI single to right field. The ball then got away from the defender, and the third Lady Jackets’ run came around to score to make it 3-0.

Calhoun’s Maggie McBrayer and Sonoraville’s Kristen Davis were the story from that point until the sixth inning as each ace pitcher shut the opposing offense down.

The Lady Phoenix (11-2, 8-1 in 6-AAA) weren’t going down easy, however, as they kept fighting and clawing to get baserunners on any way they could against McBrayer, and Shayna Dutton came through with a mighty swing in the bottom of the sixth as she sent the ball over the left-field fence and off the scoreboard for a three-run homer to tie it up at 3-3. Grace Crocker had walked and Davis doubled earlier in the inning to put runners at second and third with one out to set up Dutton’s shot.

“We battled back from a rough first inning and kept swinging it,” said Sonoraville coach Chad Hayes. “We gave ourselves a chance to win, but Calhoun got one more timely hit than we did late in the game and that was the difference.”

After the sixth, McBrayer rebounded by leaving the potential go-ahead run on third base in each of the seventh and eighth innings by getting a strikeout for the final out of each frame. The sophomore earned the win in the circle going all eight innings and allowing three runs on five hits while striking out eight, walking four and hitting one batter.

“When they hit that homer to tie it, I thought Maggie was running out of gas, but she came back strong to finish the game and made some big pitches,” said Smith. “When she got those strikeouts in the seventh and eighth to end the inning, it really fired her up and our whole team.”

In the eighth, Lyndi Rae Davis led off the inning with a single, but Davis quickly retired the next two batters. However, Wilbanks came through with her second hit of the day and Molly Banks was hit by a pitch to load the bases. That set up Walker for her dramatic, two-out, walk-off hit as she sent a hard grounder down the third base line and into the outfield to score Emma Rogers from third and send the Lady Jackets to the victory. Rogers had come on earlier in the frame to courtesy run for Davis.

Smith said she was proud of the way her team found a way to win against such a stout opponent, but she knows that this probably won’t be the last time they see the Lady Phoenix in 2018.

“These are the top two teams in our region and probably two of the best in the state,” said Smith. “(Sonoraville) always brings their best against us, and we really bring out the best of each other.

“It’s such a big game with two great teams. We needed that win, and our girls are fired up that we got it. I’m so proud of Audrey who had two hits and knocked in a couple runs and also Molly for her hit at the end. Those are two of my seniors, and they were both clutch tonight.”

Along with Wilbanks and Walker’s efforts, also offensively for Calhoun, Davis had three hits, Carlie Henderson added two and Anna Taylor reached base three times on walks and scored a run. Rogers scored two runs while courtesy running for Davis, and Erin Barnes had a walk and a run scored.

Davis took the loss for Sonoraville in the circle despite some shutdown work in between the first and eighth as those were the two frames Calhoun did all their damage. She went 7 2-3 innings and gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits while striking out 11, walking four and hitting one batter.

The Lady Phoenix were led at the plate by Dutton’s three-run homer, and she also drew an intentional walk later in the game. Davis and Sandra Beth Pritchett each had doubles with Davis scoring a run, Grace Crocker added a hit, a walk and a run scored, Sarah Anne Arthur had a hit and a run scored, Payton Townsend contributed a hit, Katie Williams added a hit and two stolen bases and Karley Thomas reached on a walk and a hit by pitch.

The Calhoun win evens the season series between the two teams after Sonoraville won their opening meeting 1-0 back on Aug. 13. Hayes said it’s a tough loss obviously, but his team still has everything they are aiming for out in front of them as they could still lock up the No. 1 seed for the Region 6-AAA Tournament by winning out.

“That’s what I told them after the game is at the end of the day, this is just one game,” said Hayes. “If we do what we’re capable of from here on out, this one won’t matter in the region standings.”

Calhoun is back at home on Tuesday to host Murray County at 5:30 p.m. in a makeup game of an earlier rainout. They will visit Gordon Lee for a non-region affair on Wednesday at 5 p.m. Sonoraville returns home on Thursday to host Adairsville at 5:30 p.m. in a 6-AAA contest.