By Doug Gorman
The ELCA Lady Chargers softball team isn't use to the kind of pressure it faced Monday in the third-and-deciding game against Whitefield Academy in the Region 9-A playoff series.
Simply put, it was win or go home for the two teams, so when it came down to crunch time, ELCA came through with a 16-8 come-from-behind victory.
The four-time defending Class A champs are used to waltzing through the region tournament, and even the early part of the state tournament.
Things have been a little different this year. Gone is Julia Echols, last year's Class A Player of the Year who is now at the University of Georgia, short stop Kacie Patterson, who signed a scholarship to Georgia Perimeter, and pitcher Megan Betsa, who transferred to Union Grove.
Even its coach, Keith Batchelor was elevated at the last minute from the middle school ranks to varsity head coach when Lacy McClendon's and her family moved to Athens.
ELCA is just 10-9 this year, but with the victory, the Lady Chargers continue their yearly tradition of going back to state.
With Monday's win, the team was able to give Batchelor, who was celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary, a nice present.
"We knew things were going to be a little different this year," Batchelor said. "You can only ride that wave for so long."
The Lady Chargers' season and state championship run seemed about over until the team put together an offensive explosion.
Trailing 8-3 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, ELCA scored the last 13 runs of the game, and it was called thanks to the eight-run mercy rule. Now, the Lady Chargers will wait to see who they play in round one of the Class A tournament.
"Just getting back to state was our goal," Bachelor said. "I am proud of the way this team played. We starting hitting the ball at the very end.
Once ELCA got the lead, pitcher Ellis Fields shut down Whitefield Academy in the sixth, pitching a round a walk and two base hits. She also recorded two strike outs in the inning to help shut down any thoughts the Lady Wolfpack had about a rally.
Whitefield grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Jordan Jones ripped a two-run homer.
ELCA rallied in the bottom of the first when it scored three times paced by Symone Ball's lead-off triple. She scored when Fields helped her own cause with an RBI single.
Michel Bell walked and later scored the third run of the inning.
Whitefield tied it up in the top of the second and then took a 4-3 lead in the top of the third. The Wolfpack added four more runs in the fourth inning paced by Allie Whitemer's home run.
But Whitefield's 8-3 lead didn't hold up as ELCA rallied with the last 13 runs of the game.
The Lady Chargers had plenty of offense in Monday's win. Ball led the way with four hits, including a triple and a double. She also scored four times during her 4-for-5 performance.
Fields was 3-for-4 with three runs scored, Bell had two hits and walk and scored three runs.
Official first-round brackets will be released later in the week.