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Softball: Heritage splits with Habersham, plays Monday
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After losing the first game of a double-header Saturday, the Heritage softball team trailed Habersham Central 7-5 with six outs to go and faced elimination in the region tournament before climbing off the deck to win 8-7 and stay alive for top seed in the state tourney.

"We want to finish as high as we can," Heritage Coach Dickie Hightower said. "And we want to win as many ball games as we can, but both teams are in the state tournament; looking at it realistically, we've accomplished a goal by getting in the state tournament, but it would be nice to be a first or second seed. That's why we're going to play again Monday and Thursday."

In the first game, Habersham Central scratched out the game's only run on two hits and hit batter in the first inning. Georgia Webb led off with a single and Kelsie Gray followed with another before Lydia Gerron was hit by a pitch. Abby Hulsey struck out, but Webb scored on Jordan Ellington's ground ball. The Lady Raiders managed just three more hits for the rest of the game as Heritage pitcher Nikki Walden mowed down hitters, striking out six and walking none.

"Nikki pitched a real good ball game," Coach Hightower said. "We didn't have many opportunities [to score], but they didn't either."

Habersham Central's starter, McKenzie Cowart was just as effective, surrendering but six hits and striking out three on her way to a shutout, the first time the Lady Patriots have been blanked this season. Heritage nearly tied the game when Liz Forrester, who had doubled with two out in the sixth, tried to score on a single by Kayla Phillips, but Habersham's centerfielder, Kayla Scott, threw her out on a close play at home.

The Lady Raiders tested Heritage centerfielder Jessica Martin's arm twice in the first game and paid the price as Martin threw out Jordan Ellington at third and doubled up Natalie Pitts who had strayed too far off first on fly ball.

"[Martin] covered a lot of ground and made some good plays," Coach Hightower said. "We played well defensively in both games. Habersham is a good hitting ball club, so we had to make some plays."

Both teams began to hit in the second game.

Heritage catcher Callie Alford led off the top of the first with a triple and scored on a double by Amanda Voyles. Simone Davenport singled to score Voyles and later came around to score on an infield hit by Cari Wilkerson.

The Lady Raiders came right back, though, scoring three runs in the bottom half.

The Lady Patriots reclaimed the lead in the top of third, scoring two runs on hits by Davenport, Phillips and Diamond Callwood, but once again the Lady Raiders answered.

In the bottom half of the Inning, Jordan Ellington led off with a towering double off the top of the centerfield fence. Coach Dickie Hightower decided to relieve Walden, who had pitched the entire first game and the first two innings of the second, with Kierra Camp. Camp retired the next two batters, but Ashley Blackburn singled to score Ellington. After Kayla Scott was hit by a pitch, Webb doubled  to score Blackburn. Gray then singled driving in Scott and Webb.

The Lady Raiders replaced starter Natalie Pitts with staff ace Jordan Ellington in the top of the fourth, and Habersham's number one starter silenced the Heritage bats for two innings. But in the top of the sixth, the Lady Patriots came roaring back. Alford lined out to start the inning, but Camp singled and stole second. Voyles followed with another single to score Camp and took second on an errant throw. Davenport then doubled, scoring Voyles and tying the game. After Davenport moved to third on a wild pitch, Liz Forrester singled and Heritage took the lead for good 8-7.

"Simone adjusted well when they brought in Jordan," Coach Hightower said, noting that Davenport had taken an outside pitch to right field to tie the game.

The Lady Raiders threatened to tie it up in the bottom of the final inning after Kayla Stephens walked moved to third on two ground outs. But Davenport scooped up Scott's grounder to third and threw her out on a bang-bang play at first to end the game.

Habersham Central coach Stephanie Thomas knew bouncing Heritage from the tournament was not going to be easy.

"They're tough," Coach Thomas said. "They're well coached; they hit well, execute well. We knew coming into this game that we were going to have to hit and our defense was going to have to be top notch to have a chance to win. I think we played well in the second game, but when we have runners on we have to score."

Habersham Central will return to the Heritage field Monday for the deciding game. The winner will play the winner of the Madison County Loganville game for the region tournament crown and a top seed in the upcoming state tournament.