Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Archer Kory Best, Peyton Dodson, Jenna Graham, and Alliyah Williams celebrate after defeating Kennesaw Mountain 7-4 during the Class AAAAAA GHSA State Championship softball game at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus on Saturday.
COLUMBUS -- For a team that had never even been to the state softball tournament before, Archer showed plenty of poise on championship Saturday at the South Commons Softhall Complex's stadium field.
The No. 2-ranked Tigers came up with hits, fielding plays and pitches at just the right moments to down No. 1 Kennesaw Mountain 7-4 in the Class AAAAAA championship game and earn the first title in the school's fourth year of operation.
"Each class has gotten us a little further in learning what's going on (in the postseason)," a proud Archer coach Kristopher Daniels said afterward.
The Tigers (33-7) apparently learned those lessons well throughout their lineup, with senior Aaliyah Williams (4-for-4, RBI), juniors Jenna Graham (2-for-5, two RBIs) and Alesha Mann (two RBIs), sophomore Tahra Johnson (2-for-4, two RBIs) and freshman Jacqui Switzer all making major contributions at key times.
And even though she didn't have her best stuff, senior pitcher Nani Cabrales battled through a complete-game effort, scattering 10 hits and two earned runs with four strikeouts.
And unlike its previous two wins, Archer did not have to play from behind.
"That's been our deal all season -- get a couple of (early) runs, take the pressure off of us and put it on the other team," Daniels said.
The Tigers did just that after hits by Switzer, Williams and Johnson.Plus, a sacrifice fly by Kristin Hawkins gave them a 2-0 lead in the top of the second.
Still, Kennesaw Mountain (33-5), which had beaten Collins Hill 2-1 in an elimination game earlier in the day, made sure the day was never easy for Archer, even after an RBI triple from Mann and an error in the fourth extended the Tigers' lead to 4-0.
A two-run single by Madi Lewis in the bottom of the fourth cut the Archer lead to 4-2, and trailing 5-2 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, the Mustangs had a chance to pull even closer when Amanda Hallman sent a liner deep into right-center with two runners on.
But Switzer sped into the gap and made a nice running catch to keep the Tigers ahead by a comfortable margin, much to Cabrales' relief.
"Jacqui Switzer is a great all-around player," the Georgia Tech-bound senior said of her freshman teammate. "When she was going out to get the ball, I just knew she was going to catch it. I trust her with all my heart."
Williams came up with big insurance run with her RBI single in the top of the sixth, but Cabrales had one last big hurdle to overcome in the bottom of the inning -- and this time, she got herself out of trouble.
Kathryn Woody pulled Kennesaw Mountain to within 6-4, with Morgan Howard coming to the plate representing the tying run.
But Cabrales dug deep to strike out the Mustangs' senior to keep the Tigers in front.
"That last strikeout, my catcher Jenna (Graham) and I worked on these pitches before the inning," said Cabrales, who was also 2-for-3 with two walks at the plate. "We had to call timeout (during Howard's at bat) to see what pitches were working."
Graham then came up with another clutch hit, a single in the top of the seventh, to give Archer a little more insurance at 7-4 before Cabrales closed out the game -- and the title -- with a scoreless bottom of the inning.
It was the last step in what had been a long climb for seniors like Williams, who has toiled since Day 1 of the Archer program four years ago.
"It means the world (to us)," Williams said through a voice hoarse from yelling all weekend. "The first year, we weren't that great. But each year we built, and we kept building and we made it here. And when we made it here, we didn't want to go home without (the trophy).
"We wanted to make a point, and we did."
Kennesaw Mt. 2, Collins Hill 1
The Eagles (27-10) had their run of three straight state titles end in the elimination bracket finals despite a strong pitching performance from Amanda Chance, who gave up only two hits and two earned runs with two strikeouts in the complete-game effort.
Reagan Morgan went 2-for-3 at the plate for Collins Hill, while Jaime Hoover was 1-for-3 with a double.