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Softball: North secures home field for 1st round of playoffs
Lady Raiders pull within victory of region title
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North Forsyths Sydney Turner slides across home plate ahead of the tag from West catcher Caitlin Parks in the Region 6-AAAAAA title game on Wednesday at Fowler Park. North won 7-6 and forced a rematch with West to decide the championship. - photo by Jared Putnam

In a little more than 24 hours, North Forsyth went from being on the verge of elimination to the brink of a region championship.

The Lady Raiders secured home field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs with a 10-1 win over South Forsyth on Wednesday, then edged West Forsyth 7-6 later in the evening at Fowler Park to force a rematch with the Lady Wolverines to decide the Region 6-AAAAAA championship.

When the Lady Raiders  (18-10) took the field on Tuesday, they were coming off a 15-3 loss to South Forsyth and needed a victory against Alpharetta just to keep their season from ending.

North has earned four consecutive wins since that defeat and has scored seven runs or more in each one.

Raiders coach Bud Henderson said he believes his team’s resurgence was simply meant to be.

"I think it was a lot of praying," Henderson said with a laugh.

"I do want to thank God for where we’re at right now. I’ve failed to do that a lot, but my belief is that we’re where we are at right now because of Him.

"These girls, it was the greatest display of heart these last three or four games. We’ve been telling them, ‘If you’ll believe in yourself and you’ll have a big heart for this game and what you love to do, that’s what it’s going to take this time of year."

West (17-12) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third courtesy of an RBI single by Peyton Erb and RBI groundouts by Danielle Bernstein and Erica Davis.

North struck back in the top of the fourth following a disputed call.

The Lady Raiders had two runners in scoring position with one out when Savannah Chapman tried to steal home from third.

Chapman collided with North’s hitter, Rachel Mixon, in front of the plate and was tagged by West catcher Caitlin Parks.

The umpire initially called Chapman out but, after twice conferring with North’s coaches and the other umpire, he ruled Mixon out and sent Chapman back to third.

Karlee Grab followed with a two-out, two-run single to right that cut the score to 3-2.

West Forsyth coach Justin Rickett didn’t want to discuss what he thought the call should have been, but said teams have to expect controversial plays to happen from time to time.

"I don’t think the play and the call was handled the right way, but that’s just softball," Rickett said. "There’s things that come up that are tricky situations and how the umpires handle it ... they’re just like me when I make mistakes ... sometimes they make mistakes and that’s just part of it. I’m not going to sit here and say we lost because of anything to do with the umpires."

North claimed a 5-3 lead in the top of the fifth behind clutch hitting by Chapman, Turner and Brittany Smith.

Chapman (4-for-4, 3B, RBI, 2 R) ripped an RBI triple just inches inside the right field line off West pitcher Maci Fletcher, and Turner and Smith followed with run-scoring hits of their own. All three batters came up with their hits on two-out, two-strike pitches.

"We’ve struggled a little bit earlier in the season making adjustments, and we’ve really focused in on having a purpose on every count as a batter," Henderson said.

"Some big seniors stepped up. It was a complete, total team victory."

West tied the game in the bottom of the inning with the help of a hit batsman, an error and a wild pitch. Those mistakes set up an RBI single by Parks that evened the score 5-5.

Andrea Coleman (4 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 H, BB, HBP, 4 K), who became North’s third pitcher of the night in the fourth inning, helped herself and gave the Raiders their final lead with a two-run triple to right-center in the top of the sixth off West reliever Lauren Bearden.

West tried to mount one final rally, as Angie Jordan led off the bottom of the seventh with a double and Parks reached on an infield single that was deflected into foul territory near third base. However, Parks was thrown out trying to advance to second on the play, and after a groundout by Sam Turk, Coleman struck out Fletcher looking to end the game.

"Any time you play a rival and a rival that is a very good team, it comes down to big plays and who is going to make [them]," Rickett said.

"They made a couple more big plays than we did tonight. It was just one of those deals where it didn’t materialize and come together for us tonight."

Said Henderson: "A lot of respect [goes] to West, because it was a dog fight."

West and North were set to decide the region championship at 6 p.m. on Thursday.