If not for one moment in the top of the third inning Tuesday night, the Heritage Generals and the LaFayette Lady Ramblers might still be playing softball.
But when that moment came, the Generals were ready.
Heritage took advantage of some defensive mistakes by the Lady Ramblers and got two huge back-to-back two-out hits by Katie Proctor and Rachel Gibson to take sole possession of the Region 6-AAAA lead with a 6-0 win in south Walker County.
The victory gave the Generals (9-0, 5-0) a one-game lead in the region standings over LaFayette (9-4, 5-1) after both teams had entered the game unbeaten in region play.
The two teams are scheduled to meet again on Sept. 27, this time in Boynton, in the region's regular season finale. The top two teams at the end of the regular season will play a best-of-three series to determine the region champion.
"First of all, give LaFayette a lot of credit," Heritage head coach Tanner Moore said. "Their pitchers did an amazing job and they had a great game plan against our offense. We stayed away from our approach for the most part, offensively, but we were able to string a couple together and took advantage of some of their miscues. That's the way this game goes. Now we just have to build on that."
Heritage had just four hits in the game, and took advantage of three LaFayette errors. However, two of the hits couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
With the bases loaded and two outs, an error would bring in Bailey Christol with the first run of the game and Proctor would follow up by lacing a two-run double into left field to make it 3-0. Gibson then strolled to the plate and launched a three-run homer to left to add to her team's advantage.
"That was a big at-bat for Katie," Moore said. "Two outs and the first pitch after a mound visit and she was able to see one right down the middle and keep her hands inside of it. She did a great job."
Gibson would also help herself with a season-high 16 strikeouts, although LaFayette had three good chances to score during the contest.
The Lady Ramblers loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the third, only to come up empty as Gibson got a strikeout, a 5-2 force out at home and a second strikeout to escape the jam. Two more strikeouts in the fourth inning would again leave the bases juiced and Gibson's final strikeout of the night in the bottom of the seventh would strand two LaFayette runners on base.
"(Rachel) came up big in some really, really clutch situations tonight," Moore continued. "LaFayette had the bases loaded twice, once with no outs, and she was able to figure out a way to get out of it each time. That's what great players do. They find a way. She also had a pretty big swing with two outs too."
Gibson allowed just three hits and four walks to pick up the victory. Her counterpart, Madison Pettigrew, threw six innings, giving up four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. None of the runs she allowed were earned. Ashton Stalling struck out one as she pitched the seventh inning.
Christol was the only Heritage player with two hits. Carlee Corbin, Marquila Howell and Nicky Yancy all had hits for the Lady Ramblers.
Heritage will play a non-region home game against Catoosa County rival LFO on Wednesday at 5:55 p.m. before traveling to Pickens on Thursday for a 6-AAAA game. Meanwhile, LaFayette will travel to Southeast Whitfield on Thursday to continue region play.
"Tonight was a huge game and a huge win, especially the way this region format is set up for the postseason," Moore added. "I'm proud of our team and I'm proud we were able to find a way to win. Now we have to turn the page and get ready for LFO tomorrow."