The bats finally came alive for the Grace Baptist Academy Lady Golden Eagle softball team Tuesday evening.
After being held in check for much of their Region 3-A semifinal by Whitwell sophomore Riley Long, the Lady Eagles batted around in the sixth inning when they scored five runs and overcame a two-run deficit to defeat the Lady Tigers, 6-3.
With the win, Grace improves to 25-7 overall and will be at home on Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 to play the Silverdale Lady Seahawks in the region final in a rematch of last week's District 5-A championship.
Whitwell had defeated Grace by a 4-2 final less than a month ago, but the Lady Golden Eagles turned the tables on a day when the stakes were much higher.
"It took awhile. Nothing like waiting until the end to pull it out. We made it exciting for you," said Grace coach Tina Walker after her team had improved to 25-7.
"I thought we might be in trouble when Whitwell took the two-run lead in the sixth, but our seniors are really good leaders and they were not going to be denied today. Every member of his team did what we asked them to do. They all contributed. That's how you win important games. I'm so proud of them," Walker added with a smile.
Whitwell's Grace Pickett is concluding her sixth season as the head coach of the Lady Tigers. No question, she has endured some tough losses in that time, but none any tougher than the one to end her team's season.
"I'm hurt. I wanted us to win that game more than you'll ever know. It was a heartbreaker," she began after a lengthy talk with her players.
"We had a two-run lead, but we didn't finish the job. I knew that the sixth inning would be critical for us on defense as Grace had the heart of their lineup leading off. They're an awfully good softball team, but we just have to keep working to get better," Pickett nodded.
Whitwell scored first when Long slugged a solo homer the opposite way to right leading off the third inning.
Grace came right back to tie in the bottom of the inning when Lexie Dean reached on a two-out single and scored on a long double to left-center by Reagan Schrader.
Whitwell struck again with two runs in the top of the sixth.
Freshman Kennedy Blair reached on an error to lead off before being sacrificed to second. Grace pitcher Tory Helton got the second out on a pop to third before walking Magen Fulfer.
Blair and Fulfer both scored on a double into the corner deep in right by Kathleen Sledge, who ended up on third when the throw from the outfield went home.
Things looked bleak for the home team at that point, but it didn't take long for matters to get turned around.
Walker had pleaded with her team to "score five" in the third, but they finally responded with those five in the sixth.
Bethany Cowart had an RBI-triple to drive in Schrader, who had reached on an error before Kaitlyn Eldridge plated the tying run with a single to center that scored Cowart.
Helton drew a walk and Maddy Horton beat out an infield single to load the bases. Savannah Jeno reached on a fielder's choice, but Helton scored the go-ahead run when the throw from the catcher to first sailed into right field.
Dean then drove in the last two with her third hit of the game, a double to left.
Helton improved to 22-4 with the victory after allowing three runs on four hits. She also had six strikeouts and walked one.
Despite those numbers, she didn't appear to be real happy with her performance.
"That was pretty rough," she said shortly after the game ended.
"I wasn't on top of my game, but our bats came through for us finally. It took us some time to get adjusted to their pitcher, but once we did, we were okay," she said with a smile.
Dean had three of the Lady Golden Eagles' hits. Schrader, Cowart, Eldridge, Helton and Horton had one apiece.
Sledge had half of Whitwell's hits and drove in two of the three runs. Long had her home run while Kacee Hedrick had the other hit, a single in the second.
WHITWELL 001 002 0 -- 3 4 2
GRACE 001 005 x -- 6 8 1
Long and Sledge; Helton and Schrader.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)