Heritage Generals

It was just two innings out 14 that were played on Wednesday night, but they are two innings that the Heritage Generals would desperately love to have back.

Sixth-ranked Madison County scored five runs in the top of the third inning of Game 1 to score a 5-4 win and they used a four-spot in the bottom of the third inning of Game 2 en route to another 5-4 victory that eliminated the fifth-ranked Generals from the Class AAAA state tournament.

First-year Heritage head coach Tanner Moore said both losses were tough to take.

"(Madison County) is a well-coach ball team and I give all the credit to them," he said. "They did the little things that they needed to do to win the games and they made a couple of more plays than we did.

"But like I told our girls, I couldn't be more proud of them for this season. Tonight was just one night. Granted, it was the last night of the season, but it wasn't a reflection of our whole season. To be where we were earlier in the season and to come back and win the region championship and be where we were tonight, I just can't be more proud of them. I can't."

Heritage picked up a pair of runs in the top of the first inning of Game 1 and added a second run an inning later. But the Red Raiders would get two hits, including a two-run single by Lexi Jordan, and take advantage of three Heritage errors to forge a 5-3 lead.

The Generals were able to push home a run in the bottom of the seventh and had the two winning runs in scoring position with two outs, but a fly ball would end the game.

In the nightcap, with Heritage batting first, Bailey Christol led off with a double and Ansley Bice added a single before both runners scored on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Madi Morris and Katie Proctor. Bice tripled to start the third and scored on a groundout by Morris to make it 3-0.

But once again, the Generals would endure a nightmarish third inning to find themselves behind once again. All four Madison County runs were earned. Kinley Phillips had a run-scoring single, pinch-hitter Emily Austin came through with a two-out, two-strike, two-RBI single and Ella Chancey came through with a clutch RBI-single to give her team the lead.

The Red Raiders would threaten in the fourth and sixth innings, but starting pitcher Taelyn Bates would wriggle out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth and she induced a fly ball to center in the sixth to leave two runners in scoring position.

Heritage would leave runners at first base in both the fourth and fifth innings. They also stranded a runner at second in the sixth after the leadoff hitter was thrown out at third after straying too far off the bag on a grounder back to the pitcher.

But down to their final at-bat in the seventh, they got two gifts from Madison County to get them back in the game.

A throwing error allowed Christol to get on base with one out and, after stealing second and moving to third on a single by Bice, Christol came racing home with the tying run after Phillips uncorked a wild pitch. However, Phillips battled back to get an infield pop-up and a groundout to strand Bice at third and keep the game tied.

Madison County would win the game a half-inning later. Kennedy Dixon doubled to the left-centerfield gap, signaling the end of the night for Bates. Relief pitcher Rachel Gibson got a grounder for the first out, but pinch runner Brooke Hooper would move to third on the play.

With Chancey at the plate, Gibson threw a wild pitch that caromed off the brick backstop behind home plate. Hooper hesitated for a split second before breaking for home as the ball quickly bounced back toward Gibson, who went racing to cover the plate. But Hooper was able to dive past Gibson's tag attempt with the winning run on a very close play at the plate.

"It was a screwball and it was in," Moore explained later. "I thought it was fouled-tipped, but (the umpire) made the call and said it wasn't. The ball came back, but we weren't able to hold on to it and the runner was able to get around the tag."

Phillips and Laney Bales were each 3-3 for Madison County in the second game. Bice was 3-for-4 and was the only Heritage player with multiple hits in the nightcap.

The Red Raiders (27-8) punched their ticket to Columbus with the sweep, while the season came to a close for the Generals with a 22-10 mark. It also marked the final game for Bates, Morris and Ashley Faulkenberry, Heritage's three seniors.

"They are unbelievable people and they are going to be successful in whatever they do in life." Moore said. "All three want to be in the medical field and all three of them are smart enough to be in the medical field. They led us with such enthusiasm and pride for this program. They are special ladies and amazing people."