Habersham Central couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the 2008 softball season.
The Lady Raiders used a pair of two-out rallies and solid pitching and defense to defeat a pesky Union County team 8-6 and claim the championship of the gold bracket Saturday at the Lanier Point Invitational.
"This is huge for us," Habersham Central coach Stephanie Thomas said. "This showed our group right here how we can compete."
In what she called a young team, Thomas’ Lady Raiders fell behind 1-0 early, but scored three runs in the second inning and five runs in the third inning to build an 8-2 lead.
Seven of the eight Habersham Central runs came with two outs.
The biggest two-out hit came off the bat of center fielder and No. 9 hitter Chelsea Jackson. With the bases loaded in a 4-2 game, Jackson drilled her second two-run single of the game to give the Lady Raiders a 6-2 lead.
A two-base error by Union County allowed two additional runs, including Jackson, to score on the same play.
Jackson ended the game 2-for-3 with a double and four RBIs. Joanne Renshaw finished with two hits and two RBIs and K.C. Carr scored two runs for the Lady Raiders.
"This team had a goal when they got here (Saturday morning)," Thomas said.
"They came here to win, and they did."
But not before Union County mounted a two-out rally of its own. The Lady Panthers scored four runs in the top of the sixth inning to cut the deficit to two runs.
"The intensity level here was extremely high," Thomas said. "I’m real proud of the girls’ effort and heart."
The win for Habersham Central gave the softball program its first Lanier Point Invitational championship.
West Hall High finished in third place with a dramatic 3-2 win against Hebron Christian Academy.
Down by two runs all game, freshman Morgan Strickland hit a game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth.
With one on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, Emily Hammond hit a walk-off double to give the Lady Spartans the victory.
Other finishes of note: Flowery Branch finished sixth, and White County finished seventh in the gold bracket.
Gainesville placed fourth and East Hall finished fifth in the silver bracket, which was won by Rabun County.