Blayne Thomason’s first double was big for Dalton.
Her second one was bigger.
The freshman designated hitter helped lead the Lady Catamounts to a 7-3 win against Pickens in an elimination game during the Region 7-4A tournament on Tuesday at Heritage Point, and suddenly Dalton is just one game away from making the Class 4A state playoffs.
Northwest Whitfield assured itself of a berth in the playoffs with a 9-0 win against Cass in the championship bracket semifinals — the top-seeded Lady Bruins are just two wins away from their third region title in four years — while Southeast Whitfield’s season was ended by a 5-2 loss to Cedartown in the opening round of the consolation bracket.
But the surprise of the tournament is Dalton (11-16), which came in as the lowest-seeded team in the tournament. A 1-9 Sub-region 7B record and 9-15 overall record in the regular season is becoming an afterthought as the Lady Cats stayed alive the same day five other 7-4A teams played their final game.
And on a team with five seniors, it was a freshman who decided she was not done playing softball this season. Thomason, hitting last in the lineup, finished 3-for-4 with two doubles, three RBIs and a run scored.
“Without a doubt,” Dalton coach Jeff McKinney said when asked if this was Thomason’s biggest game this season. “She got us on the board first and then got the big two-RBI double. She’s becoming very comfortable at the plate.”
With the game scoreless in the top of the third, Thomason punched a leadoff double down the left-field line. She advanced to third on a Sarah Stinnett sacrifice bunt and scored on a wild pitch.
However, the Lady Dragons (8-14) fought back with two runs in the fourth to tie the game at 2, setting up another big moment for Thomason in the sixth. After Hannah Jones and Jessica Cisneros reached base, she came to the plate with runners on second and third with one out. With two strikes on her, she launched a ball deep to center field that seemed to be a routine sacrifice fly.
Instead, it kept flying in the cold drizzle and landed behind the center fielder for a two-run double to give Dalton a 4-2 lead.
“I actually thought I popped it up,” she said.
Pickens scored a run in the sixth, but Dalton added three insurance runs in the seventh. Kylee Harris doubled to drive in Allie Blackwood, Jones walked with the bases loaded and Thomason’s swinging bunt scored Harris.
Blackwood, who pitched the entire game, shut the door in with a three-up, three-down seventh. She allowed three earned runs off five hits and four walks while striking out 11 to pick up the win.
The final obstacle between the Lady Cats and a spot in the state playoffs is today’s 5 p.m. elimination matchup with Cass, the No. 2 seed from Sub-region 7A-4A. McKinney does not believe Dalton’s run is surprising, though.
“Records are deceiving. Our side of the region is so strong,” he said. “Northwest and Heritage are two of the best teams in the state. LaFayette and Southeast are strong, and Ridgeland is having a good year, too.”
• Northwest Whitfield 9, Cass 0: The Lady Bruins are headed back to the state playoffs, but that was one of their smaller goals this season.
In coach Jason Brooker’s mind, clinching a spot in state inches his squad closer to winning a region title.
“We never really talked about winning this to go to state,” he said. “We just talked about winning this game to get one step closer to winning region.”
Bayli Cruse’s solo home run was just the first of many Northwest scores, but it was all Emily Boyd needed. The senior ace struck out 12 batters in the five-inning game shortened due to the mercy rule.
The Lady Bruins — the No. 1 team in the Ga.PrepCountry.com Class 4A coaches poll — scored eight in the third to give Boyd plenty of comfort. Ashley Conner went 2-for-2 with a two-run double and Hannah Godfrey added two hits, an RBI and a run scored. Colbie Thomas also scored twice.
Now Northwest turns its attention to Heritage-Catoosa, the runner-up in Sub-region 7B-4A, the No. 3 team in Class 3A and the only other team left in the championship bracket. Their bracket final begins at 7 p.m. today, and whoever prevails will need just one more win for the title — the consolation bracket winner would have to beat either Northwest or Heritage twice.
“One step closer to winning region,” Cruse said of the win against the Lady Colonels (12-16-1). “They’ve always been a tough team, but our bats came together.”
• Cedartown 5, Southeast 2: It was not the way coach Kelley Barton envisioned the season ending, but a young team should mean good things for the years to come.
Three runs in the fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Lady Bulldogs (12-13) enough to hold on and advance.
“Overall I’m very pleased with how we played,” said Barton, a former Lady Raider who led the team to eight more wins than last year this season, her first as head coach. “We had some younger players step it up. Tonight we just didn’t hit.”
After Cedartown took a 2-0 lead in the first off Southeast freshman pitcher Sydney Covington, the Lady Raiders (11-16) battled back. Brooke Hasty launched a home run in the fourth, and Crickett Wyatt scored on a wild pitch in the fifth.
“In the future, we look bright,” Barton said.
• Adairsville 2, Coa-hulla Creek 1: Sophomore pitcher Shelbe Dilbeck threw a 12-inning, complete-game gem — but it wasn’t enough for Coahulla Creek to win in the first round of the Region 5-3A tournament at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
Dilbeck allowed just four hits, but the Lady Colts couldn’t provide any offense behind her. Victoria Land had Coahulla Creek’s lone hit, driving in the team’s only run in the bottom of the 10th inning to tie the game.
“We played solid defense and made some smart instinctive plays,” Coahulla Creek coach Rhett Parrott said. “Unfortunately, at the end, we weren’t able to pull it out. They just executed a little better defensively on our squeeze plays, and you have to tip your hat to their pitcher.”
The Lady Colts (10-16) will play at 7 p.m. today in a loser’s bracket game. The tournament is expected to return to Jack Mattox Recreation Complex in Ringgold, where it was originally scheduled to be played before being shifted to LFO one day after being postponed.
A first-round game between North Murray (10-14), which had a late start, was not reported by The Daily Citizen’s deadline.
• The Region 7-2A tournament, which is being held at Rome’s Alto Park, was postponed for the second straight day.
Murray County will take on Pepperell at 5 p.m. today in a pivotal matchup in the consolation bracket. The winner is guaranteed of a top-four finish in the region and a berth in the Class 2A state playoffs, while the loser’s season comes to an end.
The fifth-seeded Lady Indians (13-13) are trying to earn the trip to state one year after going winless. On Saturday, they opened tourney play by beating No. 4 seed Armuchee 3-0 before falling 12-4 in five innings to top-seeded Calhoun.
• Southeast honored seniors Megan Collins, Hannah Graham and Makayla Burse — whose 120 victories make them the most successful class in program history — as the Lady Raiders swept a quad at home to close out the regular season.
The Lady Raiders, ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, beat Pickens 25-11, 25-6 and Ridgeland 25-13, 25-6 in Area 7-4A play. In their other match for the night, they topped Class A’s Gordon Lee 25-18, 25-15.
Graham started the second game against Ridgeland with 20 straight service points for a 20-0 lead, and she set the school’s career ace record with 193, breaking the previous mark of 184 set by Lynsey King. Graham finished the day with 11 aces, 65 assists, 17 digs and nine kills.
Collins had 31 kills, six aces and 24 digs, finishing with more than 1,000 digs in her career. Burse finished the night with 18 digs, while Wendy Perez had 26 kills.
The Lady Raiders (30-10, 7-0) are the No. 1 seed for the Area 7-4A tournament, which starts with matches at higher seeds on Oct. 11. Southeast will host the remainder of the tournament two days after that.
• Northwest honored seniors Sarah Thomas, Katie Kirk, Mackenzie Mastin, Liz Trew, Isabella Ford and Shelby Douglas while splitting a pair of Area 7-4A matches.
The Lady Bruins lost 25-23, 25-21 to Gilmer but bounced back to take a 25-17, 25-17 victory against LaFayette. McKinley Hopkins led the way with 16 kills on the night, while Mary Kate Allen had eight kills, three blocks and three aces.
Kirk had five kills, two digs and an ace for Northwest (14-19, 3-4).
• Dalton closed the regular season with a three-game loss at Heritage, with the host Lady Generals winning 25-18, 18-25, 25-18.
Susan Meinders had 12 kills to lead the Lady Cats (18-13, 5-2 Area 7-4A), while Molly Martin added seven. Macie Noles finished with 16 digs and Kara Pendley was the team’s assists leader.
Dalton coach Joey Wills said the loss dropped the Lady Cats into a tie for second place with Heritage — and possibly Gilmer — with the Area 7-4A tournament set to begin next week.
• Christian Heritage closed its regular season with an Area 4-A loss at Kennesaw’s Mount Paran Christian, falling 25-18, 33-31.
Jessica Seehorn and Savannah Roberson each had nine kills to lead the Lady Lions (13-13, 1-6), with Seehorn also recording three aces.
“We’ve lost eight games in overtime,” Christian Heritage coach Kim Parsons said. “So we’re right there. We’ve just got to figure out how to finish and close them.”
The Lady Lions begin play in the Area 4-A tournament Tuesday, either at Rome’s Darlington or Marietta’s Walker, Parsons said.
• Murray County pushed host Pepperell to three games, but the Lady Indians dropped a trio of matches, including two in Area 5-2A competition.
Murray County (3-17, 2-9) lost to Carrollton 25-6, 25-3 in a non-area match, but fell to Coosa (25-12, 25-14) and Pepperell (23-25, 25-14, 25-13) in area contests.
Alex Johnson led Murray with 19 assists and a pair of blocks. Chassidy Dixon had four blocks and four kills and two aces, while Paiton Bradford finished with nine aces and two digs.
• Murray County’s boys took five of the top eight spots in a home meet on Fort Mountain, although North Murray’s Isaac Pacheco — the senior was The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Runner of the Year in 2011 — turned in a typically dominant performance on the 5K trail to finish first in 17 minutes, 2 seconds.
Led by Servio Martinez’s runner-up finish in 17:50, the Indians won with 25 points, ahead of North Murray (52) and Gilmer (55).
Also scoring for Murray County’s boys were Ivan Delgado (third, 18:15), Antonio Martinez (fifth, 18:52), Martin Contreras (seventh, 19:20) and Filiberto Nunez (eighth, 19:26).
In addition to Pacheco, North Murray’s points were supplied by Jesus Cruz (sixth, 19:17), Anthony De Santiago (20:15), Guillermo Cruz, (20:45) and Chris Joaquin (20:11). Places were not available for all of North Murray’s boys.
In the girls race, Gilmer won with 19 points, while North Murray finished with 54 points. Murray County’s lone competitor was Nayeli Jacobo, who took second in 22:20 and was sandwiched by Gilmer’s Alicia Guzman (22:10) and Elicia Guzman (23:18).
North Murray’s times and places for the girls race were not available.
Coach Matt Chambers said all of the Lady Mountaineers stopped during the race to help an injured teammate who had fallen.
In the junior varsity boys race, Murray County swept the top five places to finish ahead of North Murray (62) and Gilmer (95).
Scoring for the Indians were Jesse Martinez (18:48), Jose Ruiz (20:02), Austin Pearson (20:35), Jordi Martinez (21:22) and John David Adams (21:36).
Murray County was the only school with a full JV girls squad and took the top five places, with points coming from Monica Bermudez (27:38), Elizabeth Sanchez (27:42), Rachel Greene (28:37), Maddie Phillips (29:00) and Celena Sanchez (29:35).
• Northwest’s boys had five of the top six finishers as the Bruins took a dual cross country meet against Dade County at Edwards Park.
The Lady Bruins won by forfeit — Dade had just four runners — but they also finished in the top five slots in their race.
Northwest’s Brody Cook led the way for the boys at 19:28, and twin brother Parker was second at 19:48. Hinson Gibbs (fourth, 19:59), Brandon Bolina (fifth, 20:49) and Lane Bramlett (sixth, 20:51) also scored for the Bruins, who finished with 18 points to the Wolverines’ 45.
For the Lady Bruins, Shelby Wilson led the way with a time of 23:58, followed by Natalie Williams (24:05), Karli Williams (25:45), Caroline Duffy (25:45) and Ashley Sweeney (26:08).
• Dalton did not report results of its scheduled participation in a Chattanooga Area Cross Country League meet by The Daily Citizen’s deadline.