In a season where the Rockmart Lady Jackets faced adversity at nearly every turn, they proved Wednesday that they aren't giving up yet.
Playing in a decisive Game 3 for the second state playoff series in a row, Rockmart's softball team took a 5-0 lead over host Southeast Bulloch into the bottom of the sixth inning and held on to punch their ticket for Columbus and the GHSA State Softball Tournament.
It's the second year in a row and third in the last four years that the Lady Jackets have reached the Final Four. Rockmart, which was in Class AA prior to moving up to 3A this season, will play Oconee County on Friday at 3 p.m. at the Columbus Softball Complex.
The winner will face the winner between Ringgold and Pike County that evening at 7 p.m., while the losers will play each other as well in the double-elimination bracket. Competition will resume Saturday, with a consolation game at 2 p.m. and the state championship game scheduled for 4 p.m.
The No. 3 seed from Region 6-3A, Rockmart has defeated two region champions in the playoffs so far — Sandy Creek (5-3A) and Southeast Bulloch (3-3A). Oconee County (17-10) is the Region 8-3A champion and undefeated in the state playoffs.
A scoreless Game 3 on Wednesday was broken up in the top of the fourth by the Lady Jackets with a run. Emilee Register had a two-RBI hit as part of a three-run fifth for Rockmart, and the visitors tacked on one more in the sixth.
Southeast Bulloch (19-10) pushed two runs across in the bottom of the frame, but that would be all the home team could muster.
Register allowed just two runs while striking out four in the complete-game effort. Sam Wolfe and Megan Johnson each had an RBI, while Alexis Teems led all batters with two hits.
The host team got out to a 3-0 lead after the first inning and answered Rockmart's two-run fourth with a two-spot of its own on the way to an 8-3 win in Game 1 on Tuesday.
Register struck out six and gave up eight hits in the Elite Eight series opener. Gracey Arnold and Analee Morris each had two hits for the Lady Jackets.
Game 2 of Tuesday's doubleheader started with Southeast Bulloch once again opening scoring, this time with just a one-run top of the first.
But dialed-in pitching from Register and RBIs from Wolfe and Maddie Owens was enough to quell any thoughts of a sweep for the host team as Rockmart hung on for a 2-1 win.
The Lady Jackets score once in the second and again in the third to complete the scoring for the rest of the game. Register struck out eight and scattered three hits, while Johnson had two hits to lead Rockmart's efforts at the plate.
Head coach Steve Luke has commented this season about the youth of his team and how they continue to show they can rise to the occasion.
Rockmart had to go to a Game 3 to defeat Adairsville in the first round of the Region 6-3A playoffs earlier this month, and then edged Ringgold 6-5 to earn the region's No. 3 seed. The team then won its Sweet 16 series against Sandy Creek on Saturday in Game 3 after splitting a doubleheader Friday.
Ringgold (23-9) is one of the teams still alive in Class 3A after sweeping its way to the Final Four as a No. 4 seed. The Lady Jackets went 3-0 this season against the Lady Tigers, who have gone undefeated in the state playoffs.
Pike County (23-9) is the final team in the Class 3A Final Four. The Lady Pirates were the Region 2-3A runner up.