A few tears were shed as the Richmond Hill Lady Wildcats gathered on the right-field grass Oct. 22 afternoon for their final postgame meeting of the year.
However, Richmond Hill’s 2-games-to-1 loss to Dalton in the second round of the Class AAAAA state softball tournament couldn’t take anything away from the team’s accomplishments this season.
The Lady Wildcats achieved the goals they set of winning the Region 3-AAAAA championship and advancing to the Sweet 16 of the state tournament. Anything else would’ve been “icing on the cake,” according to RHHS head coach Angie Hummeldorf.
“We didn’t have any icing,” Hummeldorf said, “but you know what? We took care of our goals this season and built even another step on our tradition. I couldn’t be more proud of those girls.”
The region crown was the first since 2001 for the Richmond Hill softball program. RHHS reached the state tournament Final Four in 1991, when Georgia high schools were playing slow-pitch softball.
“So for fast-pitch, I think it’s a lot of history that we made (this season),” Hummeldorf said.
Dalton took the series with a 3-2 win in the in the third and deciding game at Wildcat Field. The Lady Catamounts (23-11) earned a trip to the Class AAAAA Elite Eight in Columbus.
The visitors managed only two hits in the series finale, but one of them was the difference in the game. After Dalton’s first two batters walked in the fourth inning, Brooke Belflower belted a three-run home run over the left field fence.
“They had one big hit,” Hummeldorf said.
Belflower’s blast erased a 2-0 Richmond Hill lead. In a similar situation the day before, Belflower hit a tying two-run homer to spark Dalton to a 5-2 win in game 1.
Richmond Hill (26-8) opened the scoring in game 3 with a run in the first inning. Adriana Garrett lined a leadoff single to center field, advanced to second base on a fielder’s choice and came home on Hannah Fitzgerald’s hard line drive off third baseman Hailey Jones for a double.
Dalton miscues padded the Lady Wildcats’ lead to 2-0 in the fourth. Maddie Gorsuch reached on an error to open the inning and, two outs later, scored on a dropped pop fly.
RHHS ace Sammi Mault pitched three shutout innings before moving to first base in the fourth. Mault returned to the pitching circle after Belflower’s three-run homer and finished the game with just one hit allowed and seven strikeouts over six innings.
Mault was one of five seniors for the Lady Wildcats this season, along with Natalie Corbin, Morgan Hunter, Jess Kifferly and Aubri Reed. Mault and Corbin plan to continue their playing careers at Armstrong State University.
The quintet’s freshman year was Hummeldorf’s first year as RHHS head coach. Hummeldorf praised the five seniors for the hard work they put in during the high school and travel softball seasons.
“They’re playing year-round, they’re sacrificing their weekends for softball — because they love it,” she said. “So you couldn’t ask for any more than what they give.”
While the seniors will be missed, several key players will return next season, including the Nos. 1-4 hitters in the RHHS lineup. Center fielder Garrett, second baseman Haley Taylor, catcher Fitzgerald and shortstop Gorsuch all are sophomores.
“Those are all strong positions that you want to have veteran returners,” Hummeldorf said. “They’re setting the plate for the newcomers.”
Alli Swinford hit a home run and pitched a complete game in Dalton’s series-opening win. The Lady Wildcats bounced back in the nightcap with a 4-1 victory, forcing Thursday’s rubber match.
Fitzgerald and Garrett each had three hits in game 2, and Fitzgerald drove in two runs. Hunter went the distance in the circle, allowing six hits and striking out four batters.
“Morgan had a great game,” Hummeldorf said. “We probably wouldn’t have won if she hadn’t come in and taken care of business.”
RHHS took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of game 1, but Swinford held the Lady Wildcats to one hit over the final six innings. Swinford’s home run to lead off the top of the sixth put Dalton up 4-2.
Garrett led off the bottom of the first with a double and scored on Fitzgerald’s single up the middle. Cheznie Shuman, running for Fitzgerald, scored on a wild pitch later in the inning to extend Richmond Hill’s lead to 2-0.
Mault pitched a perfect game through four innings but ran into trouble in the fifth. Dalton’s Olivia Whaley led off with a single and Belflower followed with a home run to straightaway center field to even the score.
The Lady Catamounts scored the tie-breaking run later in the inning. A third strike to Gabby Wright bounced to the backstop, allowing Lauren Parker to run home from third base.