After taking the opener 3-0, Kennesaw Mountain almost rallied in the bottom of the seventh to tie the nightcap, but Hillgrove center fielder Rachel Jarvis threw courtesy runner Paige Oliver out at the plate to end the game and give the host Lady Hawks a 3-2 victory.
That salvaged a split of the best-of-three Region 4AAAAAA championship series Wednesday, forcing the decisive game tonight at 6 p.m.
Top-seeded Hillgrove (24-5) took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning in Game 2. The Lady Hawks got there behind a first inning, two-out RBI double from Kathryn Jackson, a fourth-inning sacrifice fly from Michelle Forrester and a two-out RBI from Kia Lang in the fifth. Ashley Allen, Jarvis and Ambria Derry scored for Hillgrove.
The damage could have been worse for Kennesaw Mountain (21-6), but pitcher Kathryn Woody left the bases loaded in the fifth, stranded a runner at third in the sixth and left a runner at second in the first and fourth innings.
Woody’s presence in the circle helped as Kennesaw Mountain tried to rally in the final two innings. Taylor DeCelles relieved Hillgrove starter Abby Evans, who had given up two hits through five innings.
Malea Bell, however, homered off DeCelles in the sixth to trim the deficit to 3-1.
In the seventh, pinch-runner Brennan Phillips replaced Madi Lewis, who led off with a walk. Levi Bates then singled before Abby Chandler’s sacrifice bunt moved Phillips to third and Bates to second with one out.
Oliver came in for Bates, and after a groundout to the shortstop, Amber Johns hit a two-out single to center that scored Phillips from third and pulled the Lady Mustangs to within 3-2. Oliver was given the sign to continue home for the tying run, but Jarvis’ throw to catcher Maddie Garner found the mark and Phillips was called out to end the game.
“I thought their coach would hold her, but I wanted (Phillips) to go home,” Jarvis said. “I had so much adrenaline going when they got that hit. I’m glad she sent her because I felt like I could get her out, and I’m glad I did.”
Hillgrove coach Laura Voyles was excited that her team was able to force a decisive final game.
“These girls have short-term memory,” Voyles said, referring to the Game 1 loss. “I told them, don’t let the first game affect them. Game 2 is a new game, and they delivered.
“We’ve had tight games before, and in that situation, like they were in that last game, they play well under pressure. Now, they just need to go out and play again and let the rest take care of itself.”
The first game wasn’t nearly as dramatic, with Woody giving up six hits and striking out three in a complete-game victory. She left the bases loaded in the second and stranded runners in scoring position in the third, fifth and seventh innings.
Kennesaw Mountain gained the upper hand in the third when Kayla Aarons, who led off the inning with a walk, came around to score off a throwing error.
The Lady Mustangs added to their margin with two runs in the sixth as Johns’ one-out, two-run single to left scored Oliver and Chandler for a 3-0 advantage. Bates was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Evans left the bases loaded to hold the threat at two runs.
Evans finished Game 1 allowing three runs — two earned — on five hits in seven innings. She struck out five, but also walked four and hit two batters.
“I knew these would be good games,” Kennesaw Mountain coach Lisa Chapman said. “I knew they would be battles. But I feel like we still have momentum by getting back into the game the way we did at the end to rally.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how well we play (today).”