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7-AAAAA's North, Collins Hill reach Elite Eight

WOODSTOCK - One Region 7-AAAAA team used a terrific suicide-squeeze bunt in the bottom of the ninth inning. The other used a sensational performance from a backup pitcher.

Both are now heading to Columbus.

North Gwinnett got seven innings of four-hit ball from sophomore Mary Beth O'Rouke, who was filling in for injured star Jessica Batten, to defeat a hard-fighting Grayson team 4-2 at the North Sectional in Woodstock.

Minutes later, Collins Hill's Tamara Perkins laid down a beautiful bunt to drive in Jessica Martin with the game-winning run in a 2-1 win that propelled the Eagles to the Class AAAAA Elite Eight, played Thursday through Sunday in Columbus.

"I was like, 'I have to get it down, I have to get it down,'" Perkins said. "I had to at least nip it so I could save the run.

"And I was scared the third baseman was going to get it and tag her, so I was looking over my shoulder the whole time I was running to first."

And then, when Martin slid in safely ahead of the tag, she got to celebrate with her teammates.

It was a fantastic 10-minute stretch for Region 7-AAAAA, which now accounts for 25 percent of the remaining teams in the state.

North Gwinnett, which entered the North Sectionals as the No. 4 seed, got 22 great innings from Batten in the first three games of the tournament. But in the Bulldogs' 5-0, extra-inning loss to Sequoyah, she tweaked her back enough that she couldn't pitch the deciding game.

So North head coach Mike Cavey turned to O'Rouke, who had only been used sparingly throughout the season.

"She's got the mentality that nothing gets to her," Cavey said.

Said O'Rouke: "I was nervous, but it was a good nervous."

The sophomore responded with a tremendous performance, sending her senior teammates to Columbus for the first time.

"That's probably one of the best feelings," she said. "I really wanted to do this for Jess, because I know she really wants to go to state. And I was glad that I could help her out somehow, and help all the seniors.

"It was a great experience."

North took advantage of a Grayson error to score its first two runs of the game, as Christie Thompson laced a two-run single off the third baseman after the Rams had dropped what would have been an inning-ending popup a batter earlier.

The Bulldogs scored insurance runs in the fifth and seventh, the latter coming off a ringing RBI double by Katie McDannald.

Grayson, which defeated South Gwinnett 8-1 and Kennesaw Mountain 3-0 earlier in the day, scored its two runs in the bottom of the sixth on a clutch two-run single by Shelley Bender.

But it wasn't enough as the Bulldogs held on to earn their first berth in the Elite Eight.

"It is an awesome feeling," a smiling Cavey said. "I'm so proud of this team."

Literally minutes after North Gwinnett's celebration, region rival Collins Hill was experiencing the same glee on an adjacent field at the Hobgood Complex.

The Eagles, who amazingly were the No. 6 seed in the 7-AAAAA tournament, staved off elimination in the bottom of the seventh inning with more heroics by Perkins.

Trailing 1-0 after Brookwood's Vanessa Roman delivered a huge RBI single in the top of the inning, Perkins led off the bottom half with a bunt single.

She advanced to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on a ground out. Sam Peters then lofted a fly ball to left field. Perkins tagged up and just beat the throw home to tie the game at 1-1 and send it into extra innings.

Neither team scored in the eighth inning and Brookwood wasn't able to plate anyone in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for Perkins' second sensational late-game bunt.

"It feels great," the third baseman said. "We've worked hard all year, and we deserve it. We really do.

"Everybody underestimated us. It seems like every year everyone underestimates what we have and our capability. And we showed that we can come back from a defeat and win."

Karla Alt was the hard-luck loser for Brookwood, which defeated Mill Creek 2-1 and North Cobb 4-1 earlier in the day.

Libby Munson pitched tremendously to pick up the win, allowing just the one run in the top of the seventh inning for the Eagles, who went 3-1 in the two-day tournament with wins over Brookwood in the first round and Lassiter in the second.

North also went 3-1 in the sectional, with its other wins coming against South, Cherokee.