SAVANNAH -- The 12th-ranked University of North Georgia softball squad cemented its hold atop the Peach Belt Conference standings with a doubleheader sweep of host and 4th-ranked Armstrong Atlantic State University on Saturday afternoon at the Armstrong Softball Field. The Nighthawks outlasted the Pirates, 8-7, in a 12 inning thriller in game one, then won game two, 11-7 after rallying back from an early 6-2 deficit.
"Today's was a great example of good Division II softball," said UNG head coach Mike Davenport. "It was two tough battles and I am extremely proud of how our kids played through a lot of tough situations today."
The wins give North Georgia (34-8, 14-2 PBC) a clear three-game lead over the Pirates (26-10, 11-5 PBC) in the race for the PBC Championship with only six games to play for the Nighthawks.
Game one was all North Georgia until some late heroics from Layce Walker sent the game into extra innings. The Nighthawks went up, 4-0, on a two-run home run from Kim McMillan in the first inning, a bases-loaded walk to McMillan in the second inning and an RBI single by Courtney Poole in the third inning.
Armstrong cut the lead back to one run, 4-3, in the bottom of the third inning thanks a two-RBI triple and a sacrifice fly.
North Georgia extended the lead to 6-3 with single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, but Walker launched a two-out, three-run home run to center field in the bottom of the seventh to tie things up.
Both pitchers, Poole for North Georgia and McLemore for the Pirates, held the batters in check for the first four extra innings, but the Nighthawks' Jessica Finch launched a two-run home run to take an 8-6 lead in the 12th inning.
Armstrong loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the frame and plated a run on a fielder's choice, but Poole retired the next batter on a fly ball to left with the tying run on second base to preserve the win.
Poole (16-7) went the distance in the win for the Nighthawks, giving up 12 hits and seven runs in 12 innings of work, walking two while striking out three. McLemore (17-4) took the loss for the Pirates, giving up 14 hits and eight runs in 12 innings, walking five while striking out six.
Poole went 4-6 at the plate, while McMillan drove in four runs on two hits for North Georgia in game one. Walker's three hits and four RBIs paced the Pirates.
In game two, the Pirates jumped out to an early 6-2 lead thanks to a solo home run in the first inning, an RBI double in the second inning and two-run blasts in the second.
The Nighthawks would push across two unearned runs in the third, then take a 7-6 lead in the fourth inning on an RBI double by Taylor Anne Merritt and a two-run single by Finch.
Armstrong would tie things up in the bottom of the fourth inning on an RBI single, but another error would put the Nighthawks back on top in the fifth, 8-7, and then North Georgia would put the game away with three runs in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by Victoria Prince, a wild pitch and an RBI single by Poole.
Victoria Sink (18-1) overcame a slow start to notch the win for the Nighthawks in game two, giving up 10 hits and seven runs in seven innings of work, striking out one. Rachel Reynolds (1-1) gave up the tie-breaking run in the fifth to take the loss, facing only two batters.
Tiffanie Burns went a perfect 3-3 with three runs scored and two RBIs to pace the Nighthawks' offense.
North Georgia returns to action on April 8 with a non-conference twin bill against Lee University. First pitch of the doubleheader is set for 4:00 p.m. at Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium.