LAWRENCEVILLE — Hailey Mize was in rhythm even before she stepped off the bus Thursday afternoon.
In fact, she felt North Forsyth's entire softball team was in that same rhythm. And the Raiders needed to be focused, up against defending Class 7A champion Mountain View. It was Mountain View that beat North in Columbus last season, and it was Mountain View that beat the Raiders a 7-5 back in August.
But Thursday was different.
Lauren Fields and Abby Castleberry came up with a couple of timely hits, Mize tossed a superb complete game and North swept Mountain View in a doubleheader to reach the Elite 8.
"On the way here we were all pumped up, just all together listening to music the whole bus ride here," Mize said. "We really felt it today."
North won 3-2 in Game 2 behind Castleberry's walkoff hit in the bottom of the eighth inning.
McKayla Cothran reach on an error by Mountain View second baseman Callie Shrope, then Mize laced a single into right field to move Cothran to third base.
"Well, actually, I said a little prayer before I went up there," Mize said. "My hitting coach was behind me telling me to stay back and get in back of the box, (wait for) your pitch. I was just really dialed in that last at-bat."
Mountain View intentionally walked Lauren Fields to load the bases and set up the force play, then Castleberry delivered the walkoff hit.
Abby Castleberry walks it off against Mountain View
Castleberry was at the heart of another North rally in the bottom of the fifth inning, cutting into Mountain View's 2-0 lead with a sharp line drive up the middle to score Fields.
Mountain View got on the board when Sarah Currie hit a solo home run, her second of the day and a rare mistake by Mize, whose changeup kept the Bears off-balance all game.
"Hailey pitched a phenomenal game. That's the best one she's pitched all year," North head coach Jim Cahill said. "It reminds me of a game she pitched last year in Columbus against Parkview. She really just did a great job shutting the other team down."
Mize pitched eight innings, giving up two earned runs and striking out eight batters.
Mize was backed by some stellar defense, as the Raiders committed just one error in Game 2.
Taylor Pipkins had a particularly impressive play in the fourth inning — just three batters after Currie's home run — when she tracked a fly ball all the way to the left-field wall and made the catch.
"She doesn't play like a freshman," Cahill said. "She had some great at-bats, and she had a hit in I think the sixth or seventh inning. She did a great job for us."
North jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of Game 1 behind and RBI single by Cothran and a sacrifice bunt from Fields.
Fields broke a 5-5 tie in the top of the seventh inning when her bunt back to the pitcher plated Cothran. North won 6-5.
North had 11 hits in the first game, led by Adaline Nix's 3-for-4 effort. Cothran and Fields also had a pair of hits, while pitcher Olivia Tyson tossed a complete game and surrendered five runs — three earned — and struck out seven batters.
"We played great defense, ran the bases and got great pitching," Cahill said. "This time of year, that's going to win you games."
The win vindicated last season's 3-2 loss to Mountain View in the first round of the Class 7A state tournament in Columbus. Mountain View's win was the first of four straight the Bears used to capture the state championship.
"We felt we should have beat them last year. I mean, we had our chances," Cahill said. "I think they beat us (3-2) and we gave up a two-run home run. It was 1-1 for a long time, but we gave up a two-run home run to make it 3-1. Then we had the tying and winning run on base in the last inning. Tonight we pushed her across, over there we couldn't."
North (25-9) has won nine straight games and 16 of its past 17 games. The Raiders will face the winner of Brookwood/East Coweta for a chance to return to the state tournament.
"Like I said in the past, we're all like sisters," Mize said. "We gel, and once we gel, it's like nothing can stop us. Once we gel, we're looking for Columbus."