Ringgold Tigers

Say this for the Ringgold Lady Tigers, they sure know how to make things exciting.

After dramatically winning six consecutive games in last year's state tournament to earn a championship, Ringgold thrilled its fans with not just one, but two late-game comebacks on Saturday to win its second straight Class AAA state title and the third fastpitch state title in program history.

Ringgold 16, Pike County 2

The Lady Tigers punched their ticket to the championship with a three-inning victory in an elimination game in Columbus on Saturday afternoon.

Ringgold led 3-0 when Pike put up a pair of runs in the top of the third. However, the Blue-and-White would leave no doubt as to the outcome as they exploded for 13 runs in the bottom of the inning to end the game on the run rule.

Fifteen straight batters reached base in the inning, all with one out. Caroline Hemphill had an RBI-double and an RBI-single in the inning as she finished 3 for 3 with four RBIs and two runs scored. Riley Nayadley had an RBI-double as one of her two hits and Jade Gainer drove in two runs with a double in the frame.

Zoey DeFoor had two hits and two RBIs. Amber Gainer had two hits and three RBIs. Autumn Green knocked in a pair of runs on one hit, while Baileigh Pitts and Addi Broome each picked up one RBI.

Maddy Bacon pitched a gem for the Lady Tigers, allowing just four runs with two strikeouts. Neither run she allowed was earned.

Ringgold 9, Rockmart 2

Facing their Region 6 rivals less than 24 hours after a heartbreaking 7-6, eight-inning loss late on Friday night, the Lady Tigers trailed 2-0 going into the top of the fifth inning on Saturday.

But Ringgold would sting the Lady Jackets with six runs in the top of the fifth. Nayadley would deliver a two-run single and Jade Gainer picked up an RBI on a bunt single. Then, following a Taylor Layne sacrifice bunt, Hemphill absolutely mashed a three-run homer over the fence in left to put her team in front, 6-2.

The Lady Tigers made sure of the outcome with three more runs in the top of the seventh inning. DeFoor had an RBI-triple and scored on a groundout by Pitts. Two singles later, a Jade Gainer sacrifice fly would bring in the ninth and final run the game for Ringgold.

Broome and Amber Gainer each had three hits, while Nayadley and Jade Gainer drove in two runs each. Nayadley joined DeFoor, Layne and Hemphill with two hits apiece.

Alyissa Sue pitched all seven innings, giving up two earned runs on seven hits and four walks with three strikeouts.

Ringgold 7, Rockmart 6

Needing to defeat the Lady Jackets one more time to win the state title, Ringgold quickly found itself in a 3-0 hole after the first inning, while a three-run homer by Briley King in the top of the third put Rockmart up 6-0 as Lady Jackets threatened a run-rule victory.

Instead, the deficit merely set the stage for another incredible Ringgold comeback.

It began in the bottom of the third inning with a single and a walk before Pitts blasted a three-run homer to cut Rockmart's lead in half. Two more singles would continue the inning before Jade Gainer's groundout brought in Amber Gainer to make it 6-4.

In the bottom of the fifth, Layne reached base on an error and took second on a groundout by Hemphill before scoring on an RBI by Broome. However, the Lady Tigers missed a chance for more runs as they would leave two runners on base.

Undaunted, Ringgold had three straight singles to lead off the bottom of the sixth and Jade Gainer would pick up the game-tying RBI on a fielder's choice. But once again, a big inning was quelled as a shallow flyball to left and back-to-back strikeouts ended the inning with the bases full.

Ringgold would get a two-out double by Pitts in the bottom of the seventh, but she was left stranded and the game went into the eighth inning all knotted up at 6-6.

Rockmart would go down 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth on three straight groundball put-outs by Nayadley at shortstop and the senior would strode to the plate to lead off the bottom of the eighth.

She would smack a grounder to third, but an error would allow her to scamper all the way to second base, putting the championship run in scoring position. Nayadley would then head for third as Jade Gainer layed down a bunt.

But the Lady Jackets' attempt to throw out the speedy Gainer at first base sailed the wide of the bag and allowed Nayadley to come screaming home with the final run to complete the comeback and give her team back-to-back state championships.

"We had a good feeling the whole time," head coach Daniel Hackett said. "We just knew at some point (it would happen) because we had been hitting the ball (well) for four games over two days and we don't slow down with bats in a tournament. I think our bats only pick up and they just believed. They knew they could start hitting any minute."

Pitts went 3 for 4 with three RBIs in the final game, while Jade Gainer knocked in three runs. Broome, Nayadley, Green and Amber Gainer each had two hits in the victory.

Sue began the game in the circle, but was pulled early and replaced by Layne, who pitched eight innings of relief. The junior allowed just three earned runs on five hits and three walks, finishing with one strikeout.

Hackett credited his three pitchers for keeping the team in games during the weekend.

"First, you can't overlook what Maddy did (against Pike)," he began. "She really got us into the last two games so our No. 1 and No. 2 could go the distance in the second and third games. Alyissa battled all night, but even down 2-0, she was never fazed, and once Rockmart got those two runs, she was lights out from then on out.

"Right after that three-run homer (in the final game), Taylor found her groove and she just shut them down over the next five innings. We started throwing that drop ball and she was able to command it, the screwball and the curveball the rest of the game, almost to perfection. She really got their stud hitters out when she needed to towards the end of the game."

Ringgold ended the year with a 27-10 record, having won 15 of its last 17 games, with the only two losses coming to Rockmart before avenging those losses on Saturday.

"I think this is great for Ringgold softball," Hackett added. "The program has so much working for it. My first year here, we were blessed to get some new facilities and we were able to take that team and just start to rock and roll.

"For our school and our principals, I'm just so glad to be a part of this."

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

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