Heritage Generals

Many teams have won state fastpitch softball championships since the GHSA first sanctioned the sport back in 1994 and several teams have won back-to-back titles.

But three in a row?

It's pretty rarefied air, but the Heritage Generals moved into that high-rent district by winning three straight games in Columbus on Saturday, including back-to-back victories late Saturday afternoon against Region 7-AAAA rival Central-Carroll.

With the title, Heritage becomes just the eighth program in GHSA history to win at least three consecutive state fastpitch softball titles, joining Buford, Calhoun, Collins Hill, ELCA, Gordon Lee, Locust Grove and Oconee County.

"The goal every single year is to get to this day and have a chance to win it on this day," said head coach Tanner Moore. "You just have to give yourself a fighting chance and we did that. We made it an uphill climb at times, but we just had to take it one pitch at a time and one out at a time.

"I think having the experience helps because it gives you a mental edge that sets yourself apart when you've done something...I think once we get the momentum, our girls just play a little bit differently and they don't ever give it back."

Heritage 7, West Laurens 3

The Generals earn a spot in the championship game with a victory over West Laurens early Saturday afternoon in the elimination bracket.

Heritage got three strikeouts in two innings of work from Rachel Gibson, who turned things over to freshman Kelsey Anderson. Anderson pitched five strong innings of relief, allowing three earned runs on four hits with a walk and three strikeouts. All three runs by West Laurens came on two homeruns.

Madeline Stone had an RBI-single in the first inning and the Navy-and-Red would score four times in the third on two hits and two West Laurens errors. Gibson helped herself by driving in a run with a ground out and Lexi Duckett picked up an RBI-double.

Heritage would plated another run on an error in the sixth inning and Stone came through with another RBI-single in the seventh. The Generals had seven hits in the game, while the Lady Raiders hurt themselves with six errors.

Carmen Gayler had three hits, including a double, and she scored twice in the victory. Stone went 2 for 4 and Sarah Haynes also was credited with an RBI.

Heritage 3, Central-Carroll 2

After losing 2-1 in eight innings to Central late Friday night in the winners' bracket final, the Generals overcame three errors and an early 2-0 deficit to hand the Lady Lions their first loss in Columbus and force a winner-take-all game for the state championship.

Back-to-back errors by Heritage allowed Central to score twice with two outs in the top of the first inning. However, the Generals would get one run back in the bottom of the inning.

Heritage used a single, an error and a walk to load the bases for Gibson, who drew a free pass with the bases loaded to bring in her team's first run.

One inning later, Duckett and Bailey Christol singled and Gayler came through with a two-out, two-run hit to give Heritage the lead.

It would turn out to be the final runs of the game.

Gibson struck out nine batters in seven innings and allowed just one hit to get the win. Christol had three of the Generals' six hits and scored twice.

Heritage 4, Central 0

Facing one final showdown, the Generals finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth inning on an RBI-single by Haynes, but it would be a three-run sixth inning that salted the game away.

The inning began with a pair of Central errors and a passed ball, all of which set the table for Savannah Wilson, who came through with an RBI-single.

Three batters later, the third error of the inning allowed the third run of the game to score and Zoe Wright drove in a run with a ground out to cap the scoring.

It would be more than enough run support for Gibson, although Central tried to make things interesting in the top of the seventh. They would get two runners in scoring position with two outs, but the future Clemson Tiger sent one final rise ball past a swinging Central hitter for her 10th strikeout of the game and the final strikeout of her illustrious prep career. She would scatter five hits and did not allow a walk to get the win.

Six different players accounted for the six hits by the Generals, including a double by Stone.

"We talked about (having to win three in a row) last night," Moore explained. "They were a little defeated (Friday night). I could tell. Anytime you lose a game like that, it's going to be deflating. But we talked about it and just said, look, it's nothing. It's just one game. We're still in it and that's all that matters."

Moore also gave credit to the Lady Lions and said playing tough competition like them in the regular season gets his team prepared for the challenges that await in the post-season.

"They do an incredible job and run a first-class program," he said. "Our region is just unbelievable and it gets us ready for the state playoffs every single year. It's deeper than any other region we have in our classification. It's like the saying, 'iron sharpens iron'. That's kind of what our region does and it's just cool to see. When you play great competition, get you ready for post-season ball."

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

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