COLUMBUS -- Friday's winner's bracket games at the Class AAAAAA state softball tournament were all about simply about finding a way for both Archer and Collins Hill.
After early morning wins, the two Gwinnett teams squared off that evening in a game at the South Commons Softball Complex's stadium field in which both refused to quit.
But finally, Abby Lyall, whose error in the top of the seventh helped send the game to extra innings, found redemption with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to lift the No. 2 state-ranked Tigers to a 3-2 victory.
Archer (32-7) now has two chances to get the last win it needs to take home the school's first state championship in its fourth year of existence.
And the Tigers got to that position by outlasting the ninth-ranked and three-time defending Class AAAAA state champion Eagles (27-9), who take on top-ranked Kennesaw Mountain in an elimination game today at 11 a.m. for the right to a rematch with Archer.
"This team is full of heart and determination," Archer coach Kristopher Daniels said. "A game like that, that's what it comes down to -- who wants in the most.
"We talked about Collins Hill and their history. It was going to take an epic effort on our part. Collins Hill's a great program, not just a great team."
It looked like Archer might close out the game in regulation after Jenna Graham's solo home run in the bottom of the fourth gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead, especially with Nani Cabrales (23-4), who gave up just three hits and two unearned runs and struck out 10 over nine innings, seemingly in control.
But Collins Hill pitcher Aeshia Miles kept the deficit at just one run by retiring 12 of the next batters she faced, and down to their last out in the top of the seventh, the Eagles scratched and clawed to stay alive.
Reagan Morgan sent a high chopper to the circle that Cabrales got a glove on, but couldn't fully control, to extend the inning.
Then after Jaime Hoover drew a walk, Kerri Berrientos sent another chopper toward third that Lyall gloved, but in her rush to record the final out, threw in the dirt to allow Morgan to scamper home and pull Collins Hill even at 2-2.
Lyall then had a chance to end the game in the bottom of the inning with the winning run on second, only to have her looping liner to the right side snagged by a leaping Danielle Patterson to send the game into extra innings.
Then after both Cabrales and Miles dodged bullets in the eighth, Lyall got another chance with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
And this time, she came through, sending a liner into left-center to bring international tiebreaker runner Tahra Johnson home with the winning run.
"I made an error (in the seventh), and I felt really bad about it," Lyall said. "I knew I had to do something for my team. So, I really put my mind to it and focused on hitting the ball."
It was a tough way for the night to end for Collins Hill, though coach Paul Pierce is certain the determination his team showed will carry over to today's action, and give the Eagles a fighting chance to extend their streak of state titles to four.
"It was just a good battle there, and (Archer was) just able to push one across at the end," Pierce said. "We kept competing. ... I'm confident our girls are going to show up and compete to the best of their ability."
The win for Archer wasn't the first time they showed resiliency.
Earlier in the morning, the Tigers had their bats silenced by Lassiter pitcher MacKenzie Kayler, who set down the first 16 hitter she faced.
But Cabrales kept her team even, and Archer followed up a sixth-inning error with consecutive hits by Brittany Marasette, Alesha Mann, Lyall and Cabrales to score the only runs it would need in a 3-0 win.
Cabrales tossed a complete-game, four-hit shutout with seven strikeouts for the morning.
Collins Hill earned its way into the evening game with a 5-2 win over Region 7-AAAAAA rival Mill Creek behind a hit and two RBIs each from Brea Dickey and Hoover, while Barrientos added a hit and an RBI.
Amanda Chance threw a complete game, scattering six hits and two unearned runs with three strikeouts.
Walk-off homer sends Mill Creek home
After falling into the elimination bracket with the morning loss to Collins Hill, the Hawks had plenty of chances to stay alive against East Coweta by putting baserunners on in just about every inning, and with Kaitlyn Howell throwing a strong game in the circle.
But Mill Creek left eight runners stranded, and with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Shemiah Sanchez came up with just her team's third hit of the game by blasting a walk-off solo homer to lift the Indians to 1-0 win.
"We didn't swing it well (Friday)," head coach Roger Parham said after his Hawks ended the season at 24-15-1. "Two runs in 14 innings (on the day) is not going to do it. It wasn't from a lack of effort. It happens."
Despite the loss, Howell kept her team in the game, giving up just the three hits and an earned run and throwing only 63 pitches in 6 innings.
Carly Zabow was 2-for-2 for the game, while Lauren Bennett and Emily Lawrence each went 1-for-2.
Bennett also went 2-for-4 with an RBI earlier in the day against Collins Hill, while Sarah Peery was 1-for-2.