CANTON — For the sixth time in program history, Creekview’s softball team is region champion.
Playing at home Wednesday night, Creekview beat River Ridge 9-5 to win the Region 6AAAAAA tournament and secure a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs. The win completed an undefeated run in the region for Creekview (23-4), which had one senior and a first-year coach this season.
“It’s been a fun season, this is a great group of girls,” said Creekview coach Jennifer Maloney, who was previously at North Paulding. “Coming over here as a new coach, I was very interested to see how it would be. They’ve done a great job buying into the things I’ve wanted them to do, and they’re doing it with each other, so it’s even better. They just love to play ball.”
Junior Ari Wright, one of Creekview’s hottest bats, opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning as she continued her hot streak at the plate. Wright hit a solo home run well over the left-field fence and said after the game she is as confident as she has been all season with the bat in her hand.
“I feel really good at the plate because I’m very on-time at the moment,” Wright said. “I’m seeing pitches well, and I’m taking pitches that are balls. When we won our first region game earlier this season, I felt like we had the ability to beat everyone in our region and win it. It’s been really fun because we all get along and we have a great team chemistry.”
River Ridge (17-11), which beat Harrison 7-2 earlier in the day to earn a spot in the championship, scratched one run back in the top of the third inning but Creekview responded immediately with two runs of its own in the bottom of the frame. Using a patient approach at the plate, the Lady Grizzlies drew five walks off River Ridge starter Gracie Hughes, then made their move in the bottom of the fourth.
Already leading 3-1, Creekview exploded for six runs in the sixth, with the final blow being a three-run home run by sophomore Sammi Martin, who had four RBIs on the day.
All season long, the team has focused on staying on top of pitches, and Martin’s homer epitomized that approach as her low line drive buzzed straight over the center-field fence.
“I was kind of nervous the whole time. I’m not even gonna lie,” Martin said. “I just stayed straight through it on that home run and tried not to pull my hands up. I knew it was gone as soon as it left my bat.”
River Ridge did not go down without a fight, however.
The Lady Knights, who outhit Creekview 11-5, rallied for four runs in the top of the fifth inning to cut the lead to 9-5. Grace Hamrick finished 3-for-3 with one run scored, while Hughes and Kaytlin Stacey each finished with two hits.
The Lady Knights began the region tournament with a 17-5 loss to Sprayberry, but came back to win three games in a row to reach the championship. River Ridge coach Andrew Marinelli said Wednesday night’s game was yet another example of how much his young team has grown this season.
“I looked out there last night and we had freshmen or sophomores at eight of the nine positions,” he said. “They could have easily folded after being down 9-1, but I’m really proud of how they battled back. Earlier in the year, I think our girls let losses get to them, but I think we’ve really grown mentally and physically. I’m really excited about this group we have.”
Freshman pitcher Anslie Pettit earned the win for Creekview by pitching a complete game while striking out nine batters.
Creekview’s lone senior, Emily Wilkie, said the chemistry on this year’s team is simply different than a year ago. When River Ridge rallied in the fifth inning, Wilkie told her younger teammates not to worry. The third baseman, along with other members of the Creekview infield, constantly voiced words of encouragement toward Petitt and one another.
The result was the program’s first region championship since 2016.
“We just told (Petitt) that we have her back, and she should never forget that,” Wilkie said. “I knew winning region was going to be hard. I knew we could do it, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I’m very happy we did it.”
Creekview will host Habersham Central in a first-round doubleheader Tuesday, with the first game to begin at 5 p.m. River Ridge will host Winder-Barrow in a doubleheader on Tuesday, with the first game set for 4 p.m.