Sometimes, hyped-up games don't turn out to be as good as advertised; one team or the other wilts under the pressure of what's at stake, and a rout ensues.
But that was not the case Thursday as the Patriot's Ta'lor Bynum hit a soft pop fly just over the outstretched glove of Loganville shortstop Haley Swords, driving in Jordan Browning to score the winning run as Heritage created a three-way tie atop Region 8-AAAAA in a 2-1 extra-inning thriller at home.
With the win, the Patriots improved to 20-3, 7-1 in the region, while the Red Devils dropped to 14-8, and 7-1 in region action. Apalachee is also 7-1 in the region.
It was everything one could want in a game: outstanding pitching, slick fielding, heartbreaking mistakes and a pulsating finish.
Heritage Coach Jason McBay was effusive in his praise for his girls and the rugged Red Devils.
"When I started in coaching softball, Loganville is one of the teams I wanted us to emulate," McBay said. "I just told the girls that it used to be that Loganville didn't (take us seriously); they'd say ‘Oh, if we go to Heritage that's a win!' But I (told them) I think we've put ourselves on their level in the three years I've been here."
Heritage's version of Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, Kamryn Toney, faced off against Maddie Green, the Red Devils version of soon-to-be HOF pitcher John Smoltz, and they both pitched lights-out for eight taut innings.
Loganville mounted the first scoring threat of the game when second baseman Andrea Rosario got a two-out hit off Toney. For some reason, Rosario wandered off first base. Toney smartly threw to the ball to first baseman Destiny Herrera, and Rosario had no choice but to try for second base. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Herrera double-clutched her throw to shortstop Addy Allegretti, who was covering second, and Rosario slid in safely. But, as she has so many times this season, Toney slammed the door by getting cleanup hitter Sydney McDonald to fly out to right field and end the threat.
Heritage got on the scoreboard in the bottom half of the fourth inning, but a costly base-running error blunted what could've been a big inning for the Patriots.
Catcher Morgan Whiten led off with drive off the right field fence. Normally, it would've been a double, but an excellent play by Red Devils center fielder Megan Wooldridge held Whiten to a single. Herrera tried to bunt Whiten to second, but Green struck her out. Toney followed with a grounder to deep short and beat Swords' throw to first. Freshman courtesy runner Glory Seay replaced Toney at first base.
With Whiten on second and Seay at first, Green got a big second out as she fanned second baseman Paige Owens on three straight pitches. Then, third baseman Bynum, who had an excellent day in the field, took a 2-1 Green pitch and hit a double to the right field gap that drove in Whiten and Seay for a supposed 2-0 lead. However, the Red Devils protested that Seay didn't touch home plate. The umpire agreed, Seay was called out, and instead of a 2-0 lead and a runner on second base, the Patriots were out of the inning with only a slim 1-0 margin.
Toney retired Loganville in order in the top of the fifth inning, striking out two and getting left-fielder Korbin Caldwell to fly out to right field.
Green struck out Heritage designated player Germecia Joseph for the first out in the home half of the fifth inning. But, left-fielder Lakaitlen Barney followed with a double to left-center field. Centerfielder Jamiya Barker hit a grounder to shortstop Swords, who tried to tag Barney as she ran to third. Swords missed Barney, and threw to first trying to get Barker. But, the throw was late and the Patriots had runners on the corners with one out. Green got Allegretti to strike out, but not before Barker stole second base. Green slammed a door of her own, though, as she got Whiten to ground out weakly to short for the final out of the inning.
Both teams were retired in order in the sixth inning.
The lost run in the fourth inning would come back to haunt the Patriots in the top half of the seventh inning.
Loganville's Wooldridge led off with a double. The next batter, Rosario, hit a flare to right field that fell between rightfielder Tori Collins and second baseman Owens. Owens proceeded to kick the ball away, and Wooldridge scored to tie the game 1-1. The Patriots retired the next two batters, but the damage was done.
Heritage loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of the seventh when Barney reached first on a dropped third strike, and Green uncharacteristically walked Barker and Allegretti. The next batter, Whiten, hit the ball hard, but Wooldridge made a good catch in centerfield to end threat.
And, it was on to extra innings.
To speed play in extra-inning softball games, each team starts the inning with a runner on second base.
With Robinson on second, Loganville pinch-hitter Harley Aldridge tried to bunt her to third base.
Aldridge popped up the bunt, and first baseman Herrera, catcher Whiten and pitcher Toney ran for the ball. Unfortunately, they proved the theory that only one object can occupy the same physical space at one time by colliding with each other. The ball bounced off Herrera's mitt, the three Heritage players landed with a thud, and Loganville had runners on the corners with no outs.
Aldridge stole second, and Caldwell almost drove both runners in with a hard-hit ball to third base. But Bynum, again, made a fine stabbing grab of the ball. She threw a bullet to Herrera at first, who made a fine grab of her own when Bynum's throw was slightly off-target. With one out, Coach McBay had Toney intentionally walk Kendall Herring to load the bases. Toney was at her best as she struck out Boothe and Swords to end the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, pinch runner Jordan Browning was placed on second base. Herrera popped out to third for the first out. Green then walked Toney to put Patriots runners on first and second. Green struck out Owens for the second time in the game. Then, Bynum came up to bat with two outs. She worked the count to 2-2. Green pitched, Bynum swung and hit the perfect lazy fly ball just over Swords' glove, driving in Browning, winning the game 2-1, and sending the home crowd into a frenzy of joy.
It was as exciting as advertised.