Tuesday was a long, exhausting day for Justin Rickett.
It was also one of the best days of the West Forsyth head softball coach’s life.
Rickett and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter, hours before he coached the Lady Wolverines to a 7-3 victory over South Forsyth in the Region 6-AAAAAA tournament semifinals at Fowler Park.
The victory assures the Lady Wolverines (17-11) of at least a No. 2 seed in the Class 6A state playoffs and means they will host a postseason series on the West campus for the first time in their six-year history.
Rickett had been at the hospital since midnight and had not gotten any sleep since Monday, but that was a minor inconvenience on a day where so much had gone right.
"I have nothing but God to thank for the wonderful day that we’ve had today," said Rickett, in his second year as West’s head coach. "It’s been a special day and a day that I’ll always remember, not just for the softball but for my family as well."
Pitcher Maci Fletcher (1-for-2, 2B, 2 BB, 2 RBI) helped herself and got the Lady Wolverines on the board in the second inning with a two-run double to right-center off South pitcher Kaylyn Young, after a walk and an error put runners at second and third with nobody out.
West held a 5-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth, with all five of the runners who scored reaching base via a walk or an error. Sam Turk scored West’s third run on a wild pitch in the top of the fourth, and Peyton Erb (2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI, R) drove in two more with a double to left-center.
"You’ve got to tip your hat to them — they’re a good ball team and they take advantage of mistakes," South coach Ronnie Davis said. "I went back and I counted up, and [the first] five of their [seven] runs came off a walk or an error, and three of those walks led off the inning."
Said Rickett: "We did a better job [than we have been] of hitting in situations and going with the pitches instead of trying to pull pitches. [Young] is a very good pitcher and we were fortunate to get a few hits tonight in some big situations. [South is] a very good team."
The Lady War Eagles (16-11-2) looked as if they had figured out Fletcher in the bottom of the fourth, when they came up with three hits off hard-hit balls and scored two runs.
Amanda Rutkowski led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on a single by Caitlyn Reeves. Sarah Nelms moved Reeves into scoring position with a double, before Shea Smith delivered an RBI ground out that cut the score to 5-2.
West got one of those runs back in the top of the fifth when Turk came up with a two-out single and later scored on an infield single by Ella Rietler.
South loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the frame when Fletcher sandwiched two hit batsmen around a single by Allie Baccarri, but the Lady War Eagles were unable to get the ball out of the infield the remainder of the inning and scored only one run on an RBI ground out.
The Lady Wolverines tacked on their final run in the sixth, when Erb led off with a single and came around to score with the help of a sacrifice bunt, an error and a double steal.
Fletcher (7 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 8 H, 2 HBP, 7 K) did the rest, holding South to one baserunner in each of the final two innings.
After losing eight of their first 10 games in September, the Lady Wolverines have now won seven straight.
West will face either North Forsyth or South for the region championship at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Fowler Park. A second game, if necessary, would be played Thursday at 6 p.m. to conclude the double elimination tournament.
"I give all the credit to my assistant coaches ... and to these kids," Rickett said. "They’ve worked hard all year and bought into it. We’ve had our ups and downs but they came together and they are playing well as a team."