Heritage Generals

Six hours from home and facing a future SEC pitcher with a fastball in the upper 60s, the Heritage Generals never even flinched.

And now, the Navy-and-Red have a chance to make it three Class AAAA state titles in a row.

Heritage punched its ticket to Columbus on Tuesday with a sweep of Region 1 champion Bainbridge in extreme south Georgia, getting two sterling efforts in the circle from future Clemson pitcher Rachel Gibson and solid hitting up and down the order.

"The top part of the order did what they usually do, but I can't say enough about the bottom of our lineup," head coach Tanner Moore said. "Gracie (Dawson) had an unbelievable night filling in for Riley Kokinda in centerfield. I think she went 4 for 8 and never got the ball out of the infield. She just did an unbelievable job of slapping and bunting for hits and then Lexi (Duckett) had a couple of big hits too."

Heritage 1, Bainbridge 0

Gibson would square off with future Florida Gator Lexi Delbrey in a big-time pitcher's duel in the opener.

The only run of the game came in the Generals' first at-bat. Bailey Christol led off the game with a double before moving to third on a sacrifice bunt by Zoe Wright. Then, after Carmen Gayler drew a walk and moved to second on a wild pitch, Christol was thrown out trying to swipe home.

However, catcher Madeline Stone would come through with an RBI-triple to right to bring in Gayler with what turned out to be the only score of the game.

Although they threatened in every inning, Heritage was unable to get another run across the plate as Delbrey pitched her way out of trouble time and time again. The Bainbridge defense also threw Heritage runners out at home in both the fifth and seventh innings.

But the Generals' defense was up to the challenge and backed up their ace with errorless softball.

Bainbridge's third and final hit of the game was a leadoff double by Haylee Nix in the bottom of the seventh. Gibson would get a strikeout and a comebacker to the mound, but a wild pitch would move Nix to third as Bainbridge looked for the game-tying hit.

However, Gibson would strike out the final batter looking to complete the three-hit shutout. She finished with 13 strikeouts and just three walks in the game, while Delbrey scattered six hits and three walks with nine strikeouts in seven innings of work.

Gayler was 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles. Stone also had two hits and Wright added a single.

"Delbrey is as good as advertised and I never thought that our winning run would come in the first inning against her," Moore added. "We got the leadoff runner on in every single inning, but give her credit. She knows how to throw. I don't think we executed great when we had runners on, but we really battled against her. To face somebody who is consistently 66-68 miles an hour and only have nine strikeouts in 21 outs is really amazing."

Heritage 7, Bainbridge 0

Needing one more victory to secure a spot in Columbus, Gibson asked for the ball again in the nightcap and fired a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts to put her team in the Final Four.

An RBI-single by Wright with two outs in the bottom of the second got the Generals on the board first, but Heritage would break the game open in the fourth and fifth innings.

Dawson who had three hits in Game 2, led off the fourth with a bunt single and scored on a triple by Duckett. Duckett came home on another run-scoring single by Wright and Gayler would follow up with an RBI-double to make it 4-0.

An inning later, after a pair of singles, Bailey Davis scored on a groundout off the bat of Avah Morrison and Dawson later raced home on a Bainbridge error. Following a second Bearcat error, Wright delivered her third RBI-single of the game the cap the scoring.

Sarah Haynes had two hits as Heritage finished with 11 for the game. The Generals also played another error-free contest in the field.

"Rachel came in and said that she was fine and she wanted to do this and as long as she is okay, I'm not going to turn her down," Moore chuckled. "They all played great. They just fought and we knew it was going to be tough, but getting that first game was huge, especially against their best pitcher, and then we just kind of turned it on like we did against Jefferson in Game 3."

Up next for Heritage (29-6) is a Final Four game in Columbus at 3 p.m. on Friday against either West Laurens or Madison County. Madison County won Game 1 in that series, 4-1, before a 2-1 West Laurens win in the nightcap. Game 3 is set for Wednesday.

"This is a new team, but this team has its identity," Moore added. "We're clicking on all cylinders right now and we're focused on the task at hand. Everything else will take care of itself. Credit our girls for flipping that switch. When their backs are against the wall, they play. I'm just so proud of them."

The other game Friday afternoon in Columbus will pit Region 7 runner-up Central-Carroll against LaGrange. Central defeated Thomas County Central, 3-2 and 10-0, while LaGrange prevented three teams from Region 7 being in Columbus as they held off No. 3 seed Cedartown, 5-4 and 4-3.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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