Fighting for another Georgia championship against a team that had beaten them a day earlier, albeit in a meaningless game, the Bartow Junior League fastpitch softball all-stars retained their crown Tuesday and are once again queens of the state.
Shaking off a tying home run by Macon's Western Little League in the top of the seventh, Bartow's Kelsey Holoway delivered the game-winner in the bottom half of the inning with a single that sent Courtney Bailey home for a 4-3 victory in Monroe.
"We got behind early but, our girls, it doesn't bother 'em anymore," Bartow coach Jimmy Bailey said. "We just fight back. We tied it at 2 and just played ... small ball from there."
Bartow pushed ahead in the fifth inning as Breanna Mahrt drew a walk to lead off. Pinch runner Aleigha McDaniel later advanced to third base on a passed ball and scored on the same play when an errant throw allowed her to cross the plate.
That 3-2 lead nearly sealed the deal but down to its last strike of the game, Macon's cleanup hitter took Brooke Rogers deep to knot things up with a clutch homer.
Not deterred, Bartow began the bottom of the seventh with Courtney Bailey's double, which was succeeded by a strikeout and groundout -- setting up Holoway's timely hit.
Jimmy Bailey noted that the game came down to his team playing well in all phases of the game, especially defense where Bartow neutralized one of Macon's advantages throughout the tournament.
"I don't believe we had a single error," Bailey said. "Breanna, behind the plate, threw out their runners and that stopped their running game because they had basically run on everybody throughout the tournament."
Mahrt sent a message early when she gunned down one of Macon's speediest baserunners.
Bartow's resolve to win was evident early on after the Western Little League seized a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
With a chance to blow the game open in the second, Macon -- which beat Bartow 3-2 Monday -- loaded the bases with no outs, prompting Bartow's head coach to insert Rogers for Courtney Bailey.
Rogers recorded three straight outs inducing a 6-2 force-out, a strikeout and a line out to shortstop to get out of a tough spot.
"It was all the girls," Jimmy Bailey said. "The girls just wanted it more than the other team."
Rogers earned the win in six innings, tallying five strikeouts.
Hitters for Bartow included Roberts, 1 for 4; Courtney Bailey, 1 for 4; Mahrt, 1 for 3 (walk, two runs); Hampton, 1 for 3 (double); Holoway, 1 for 3; and Keri Cagle, 1 for 2 (sacrifice hit).
"I gotta give thanks to the coaches that helped me, Colman [Roberts] and Chris Howe," Jimmy Bailey said before thanking those in the stands as well. "We got great parents."
Bailey acknowledged an ounce of doubt about his team's chances to repeat after winning last year's tournament.
"In the beginning of it, I didn't know if we could repeat," he said.
Bartow's 14-and-under girls clarified things for Bailey, winning their first two games by a combined 27 runs -- 17-0 over Columbus' Pioneer Little League Saturday and 10-0 over Jasper County Sunday.
Playing with a bull's-eye never affected Bartow.
"The girls took it in stride," Bailey said. "The coach got a little stressed, but the girls kept me [calm]."
Bartow heads to the Southeast regionals July 30 in Fort Myers, Fla.
Bartow's Little League softball all-stars also stand a great chance to move on to regionals after they upended two-time defending world champions Warner Robins, 9-7, Tuesday in Elberton.
The Bartow Little Leaguers face the winner of the Harris County-Baldwin County game, which took place late last night. Baldwin County led 10-1 as of press time.