If there's one thing the Heritage Generals know about playing in Columbus, it's that thrilling finishes are always more exciting.
After winning their first fastpitch state title on a walk-off hit last year, the Navy-and-Red took another big step towards a second fastpitch state title on Friday and did so once again in dramatic fashion.
Bailey Christol sprinted home from third base with the tying run in the bottom half of the seventh inning and Carmen Gayler followed up with a walk-off, no-doubt-about-it, three-run bomb to centerfield to give Heritage a come-from-behind 4-1 victory over Madison County in the Class 4A winners' bracket final.
With the win, the Generals (27-6) will face Oconee County at 8 p.m. tonight, weather permitting. The Lady Warriors advanced to the winners' bracket final with a 9-3 win over LaFayette.
The only run in the first six innings of the game came in the top of the second inning on a solo homerun off of Rachel Gibson. The Red Raiders would go on to load the bases later in the inning, but Gibson would pitch out of the jam and keep Madison County scoreless the rest of the way.
Heritage, who had nine hits on the afternoon, missed several good chances to score. They led off the bottom of the second inning with two straight singles, but struck out three consecutive times against Madison County standout Emma Strickland. Then in the bottom of the fourth, Madeline Stone led off the inning with a double, but was left stranded at the bag.
But things would change in the Generals' final at-bat.
After Strickland got the first out of the inning on strikes, Christol reached base on Madison County's only error of the game. The miscue would prove costly as Christol moved all the way to third on a Zoe Wright double.
Riley Kokinda slapped a grounder back to Strickland in the circle, who fielded it and threw home as Christol broke for the plate. The throw beat the runner to the bag, but the catcher was unable to hang on to it as Christol slid in safely with the tying run.
That brought the power-hitting Gayler to the plate. The junior first baseman worked the count full before mashing the next pitch, setting off a frenzy at home plate as Gayler was mobbed by teammates moments later.
Stone, Wright and Christol had two hits each in the victory. Gibson scattered six hits over seven innings. She walked four batters, but finished with 10 strikeouts. Strickland walked one and struck out 10 in her 6.1 innings of work.