Evans softball players trudged to their bus Wednesday, not looking like a team that had just captured a region title.
They had spent the past seven hours at Diamond Lakes softball fields to play two games, the last of which ended with a lengthy rain delay, some tense moments and, finally, a trophy declaring the Knights Region 3-AAAA champions.
"It kind of took a little of the excitement away," Evans pitcher Laura Brown said.
The weather cooperated as the Knights opened the day by beating Cross Creek 9-2. Evans then waited to play the winner of Harlem-Cross Creek. The Bulldogs earned the right, and the Knights needed one win against them to clinch the No. 1 seed in the region heading into the Class AAAA South Sectional, which begins Friday.
The Knights opened a 13-0 lead on Harlem in the bottom of the third inning, needing only two more runs to clinch the win via mercy rule. Then the skies opened.
That's when the situation got interesting. The teams took the field again to warm-up, only to be ushered back into their respective dugouts as the rain picked back up.
Flashes of lightning and thunder ensued, and Harlem players headed to wait out the delay on their bus.
Georgia High School Association official Jose Cruz-Astol later emerged and said play could resume. Evans players whooped and rushed onto the field.
Murmurs started when Harlem players didn't immediately join them.
Harlem coach Mike Leverett told Cruz-Astol he thought there was still lightning in the area and that the requisite 30-minute wait hadn't been upheld. The GHSA's lightning detector showed the storm to be far enough away to resume play.
"We're not going to forfeit," Leverett finally told Cruz-Astol. "We're going to go out there and walk in two runs."
But there was more shuffling of feet. Harlem players lined up on the field as if ready to shake hands with Evans players. After more discussion, play resumed.
Harlem pitcher Kristen Mills walked in the first run and then gave up a slow tapper back up the middle. The ball was ignored by the Bulldogs defense, the winning run scored, and a muted celebration followed.
"We just wanted to get the game in," Brown said.
GHSA rules would have required the game to be started from the beginning if it was called. And with the forecast of more rain in the days following, rescheduling might have been a chore.
Leverett said he was worried about the safety of his players, and that he decided not to forfeit only because he didn't want to wipe Knights' slugger Jenny Shepherd's two first-inning home runs off the book.
"At least we got out of here with no one hurt," he said.
The Knights were presented with their trophy as region champions, as the Bulldogs stood by and lightly applauded. Leverett and Evans coach Colette Cassedy then exchanged words before the Knights gathered for their team photo.
The region championship is the Knights' first since 2003, when they captured the Region 7-AAAAA title. Evans also owns region titles from 1996 and 1999.
Cassedy's team heads to Friday's South Sectional after going undefeated during the region tournament.
"We started hitting the ball well in this tournament," Cassedy said. "There's not just one or two getting all the hits."
Harlem will enter the sectional as the region's No. 2 seed after having finished the regular season in the same position. The Bulldogs beat Lakeside and Cross Creek on Wednesday to guarantee the second seed. They would have had to beat Evans twice to steal the top spot.
"It's better than third," Harlem senior Alana Dyson said.
Lakeside finished as the region's No. 4 seed after its 6-5 loss to the Bulldogs.
The Panthers had runners on first and third with two outs in the seventh when they tried to swipe second. Harlem catcher Ashley Waites' throw was on the money, and the rundown ended the game.
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