When it mattered most, the junior shined.
After pitching arguably her best game of the season, Reagan Clarke stepped up to the plate with a chance to send the Lady Bulldogs to the state playoffs. With two-outs and runners at the corners, Clarke came through in the clutch.
The junior right-hander sent a line drive into left-center field to drive in Hayvin Barclay and give Cedartown a 3-2 walk-off victory over Northwest Whitfield in Game 1 of Thursday’s doubleheader in Polk County.
“I was so proud of her,” first-year head coach Jaime Monroe said. “She knows that she has not had the most consistent year in the circle, but she has been very consistent at the plate. When the season was on the line she stepped up, bowed her neck, and did an awesome job.”
The home team fell behind 2-0 in the top of the third inning but bounced back late in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader. A double by Clarke scored Marycille Brumby in the bottom of the sixth to make it a one-run difference. Ivari Boozer tied it later in the inning with an RBI single to drive in Anna Beth O’Neal.
Clarke was masterful in the circle, surrendering two earned runs on four hits and three walks. She also tallied five strikeouts in seven innings against one of the top offenses in Class 4A.
Clarke was 3-for-4 at the plate with a double and two RBI. Makayla Jordan (1-3) and Brumby (1-3, R) also doubled in the victory. Barclay (1-3), O’Neal, and Brumby all scored while Clarke and Boozer (1-2) drove in the three runs.
Cedartown’s win over Northwest Whitfield, paired with a Pickens loss at Central-Carroll, handed the Lady Bulldogs the four-seed out of Region 7-4A. CHS softball has now qualified for the playoffs for the fifth season in a row.
The Lady Bulldogs gave it a ride in the series finale as well. Although a six-run fourth inning gave Northwest Whitfield a three-run lead, Cedartown battled back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth. The Lady Bulldogs were unable to complete the comeback in crunch time, though, falling 6-5 to the Lady Bruins.
Emme Arp allowed three earned runs in three innings against Northwest Whitfield in Game 3 before Clarke entered, striking out six batters in four innings.
Sophomore Autumn Boatner was 2-for-2 with a triple, one RBI, and one run scored while Kaylee Nikolopoulus went 3-for-4 with one run. Barclay (2-4, RBI), Jordan (2-3, 2B, R), and Clarke (2-4, 2B, R) also had multiple hits in the Game 3 defeat.
The Lady Bruins knocked off Cedartown 6-1 at Edwards Park in Dalton on Monday. That five-run defeat opened the series and clinched the three-seed for Northwest Whitfield.
Jordan hit a home run in the top of the sixth but, aside from a Nikolopoulus single, that is all the Lady Bulldog offense could muster in Whitfield County.
Cedartown softball was back under the leadership of Monroe in Thursday’s doubleheader at home. The former Alexander assistant had to miss the previous series due to a medical emergency but found a way to return to the field for the must-win games.
“It felt awesome being back,” Monroe said. “I missed my girls, being on the field, and going to battle with them. I was not one-hundred percent and I still am not, but it was great to be out there.
“I was very pleased with their effort. It was the fight and grit that I’ve been looking for all season,” Monroe said. “I thought it was a great tune-up for us, and I hope we can go into the playoffs next week and keep climbing the mountain.”
Cedartown will travel to Hampton, the Region 1-4A champions, in the first round of the GHSA Class 4A Softball State Playoffs. The Hornets are 16-8 overall and went a perfect 12-0 in region play.
“I know a little bit about them from playing them the last few years at Alexander,” Monroe said. “They are usually a very solid team. I’m really hoping we can go to work and make a really great run into the playoffs.”
That series in southern Henry County will start with a doubleheader on Tuesday. Games in Hampton will start at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. The if-needed Game 3 would be played Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m just so proud of these kids. Their backs were against the wall, and they fought and did what they had to do to get the win,” Monroe said. “I just hope we use that going into (this) week.”