Lady Vikings find a way to advance
HAMILTON — Northgate’s softball team continues to thrive under pressure, even if the Lady Vikings seem to push deadlines a little bit more than their head coach might like.
With the rest of this year’s Class AAAAA Elite 8 tournament teams decided by Thursday, Northgate needed a third-and-deciding game to punch a return ticket to Columbus next week and for the second consecutive week bucked elimination to do complete the task.
Rallying from a pair of early two-run deficits, the Lady Vikings received a gutsy pitching effort from McKenzie Peace and pounded out 20 hits while scoring runs in each of their final four at-bats to hold off Harris County 10-6 to clinch the last of eight berths in this year’s Class AAAAA field.
Shortstop Casey Kent went 4-for-5 as one of six Northgate starters to finish with multi-hit games in the victory.
Northgate now joins 4-AAAAA rival Ola among this year’s state quarterfinalists after the two teams battled over two final games to decide its region championship to a disappointing second-place finish.
Since then, however, the Lady Vikings have been able to buck elimination in consecutive state-playoff series, following up last week’s three-game effort over Greenbrier with another marathon in the second round against a stingy Harris County lineup that won this year’s Region 1-AAAAA title.
Northgate split a pair of one-run games on Wednesday at Harris County, winning Game One in eight innings and then falling short of a comeback where the Lady Tigers pushed the game-winner across in the top of the seventh.
The finale against the Lady Tigers saw Northgate battle back from 2-0 and 4-2 deficits in a nine-strikeout performance by Peace, who threw over 130 pitches on Thursday following back-to-back starts of a doubleheader the previous afternoon.
The senior ended the series with two strikeouts in the bottom of the seventh after Harris County clawed back to within four on a two-run homer the previous inning. After outlasting Julia Clark on an 11-pitch at bat, Peace closed out the win by retiring Sarah Kate Jenkins on strikes with runners on first-and-second after the Lady Tiger had homered off the Lady Viking standout the previous inning to pull host Harris County within an 8-6 deficit.
Despite swinging its bats, Northgate squandered its first two chances to get back in the game, leaving five runners on base between the third and fourth innings while only able to trim Harris County’s lead to 4-3.
But consecutive singles by Kent, MacKenzie McCloud and Brenna Skalski highlighted a two-out rally that tied the game and then put the Lady Vikings up for good in the top of the fifth.
Northgate, though, continued to add to the lead, padding it with three more runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh after Harris County closed to within an two deficit on Jenkins’ homer.
Clinging to a 5-4 lead, Jessica Houk came through with a clutch two-RBI double with two outs in the sixth after homering in the second inning during a 3-for-5 effort.
One batter later Houk scored on McCloud's base hit to give Northgate a 8-4 advantage.
The Lady Vikings added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh to round out the scoring on a rally that started with Skalski’s leadoff triple for her third hit of the game.
Skalskki, Houk and Carly Alderman each finished with three hits while Ebonee Echols and McCloud each had a pair in the victory.
All nine starters in the lineup had at least one hit for the Lady Vikings, who advance to play Creekview when the double-elimination GHSA Elite 8 tournament starts Thursday at 4:15.
The winner takes on either Effingham County and Loganville late Thursday.
Creekview advanced to Columbus with a sweep of Apalachee.