After starting the District 7 AAA softball tournament in the loser's bracket, Smyrna ended it as winners -- battling all the way back by taking two against Riverdale on Thursday night.
The Lady Bulldogs won 4-3 and 5-3 to earn the tournament title and play host to Coffee County in regional play Monday. Riverdale will hit the road to play Lawrence County.
"We lost to Stewarts Creek 10-2 in the opening round, which put us in the losers bracket from the get-go," said Smyrna coach Lonnie Drayton. "The only people who believed we would be here tonight were the girls that are riding that bus with me. The only ones who continued to believe it were the girls. We believed we could come back, and we just wanted that opportunity."
By virtue of their tournament records, Smyrna had to beat Riverdale twice to earn the title, whereas the Lady Warriors could have clinched it with one win.
With the second game tied 3-3 in the seventh inning, Smyrna's Lexie Harper hit a line drive into a gap between the left-fielder and center-fielder to drive in Kelsey Peebles for the 4-3 lead. Peebles had started the rally off with a single up the middle.
Smyrna's Katie Killen then followed with a hard grounder that skirted the third-base line to drive in Harper and account for the final 5-3 margin.
"Coach Drayton told me to 'yack' the ball, not like in the batting cage," Harper said. "Don't just go through the motions like you do in the cage, hit it as hard as you can. So I went to the box thinking, 'OK, I've got to hit this as hard as I can.'
"Then when I hit it there was nothing but pure joy."
Harper said starting the tournament in the loser's bracket may have helped her squad loosen up.
"Usually when we are really, really wanting to win, we are so uptight that we just don't play the game we know. When we got in the losers bracket we said, 'let's just play the game that we know,' which is speed and just get the bat on the ball," she said.
There was controversy in the third inning on two calls as the Lady Bulldogs were rallying from 2-0.
The first disputed play came when the umpire called Harper hit by a pitch and sent her to first. Riverdale coach Christy Bingham argued that the ball had hit the bat, but to no avail. In the next at-bat, Killen ripped an RBI double to score Harper and make it 2-1.
Later in the inning, with two outs, Lady Bulldog Nicole Randolph hit the ball to the fence, scoring two runners. But as she tried to come home she was tagged out.
Both runs were counted, despite Bingham's protest, making the score 3-2 in favor of Smyrna.
In their portion of the third, Riverdale's Maddie Moeller was tagged out at home plate on an perfect throw from left-field by Peebles, preserving Smyrna's one-run lead.
Maddie Cochran, who went the distance on the mound in both games for Riverdale, tied the game 3-3 in the fourth inning on an RBI double, setting the stage for Smyrna's seventh-inning heroics.
Smyrna 4, Riverdale 3
In the first game, Riverdale's Kendall Forsythe started things strong with a solo homerun in the second, followed by an RBI single by Caymen Starwalt to give the Lady Warriors a 2-0 lead.
But the Lady Bulldogs answered with a four-run third inning. Killen hit a grounder up the middle for an RBI double, and District Tournament MVP Hannah Ward did the same soon after. Smyrna's Randolph then hit a two-out, two-RBI single to make it 4-2.
Brooke McClure added a solo homerun for RHS in the fifth, but the pitching combination of Lily Soverns, who took the mound in the second, and closer Daisha Robinson kept the Lady Warriors from mounting a comeback. Those two pitchers teamed up again in the second game for the win.