The homestanding Lady Eagles claimed a 9-7 victory in the game, improving their record to 4-0 (1-0 in Region 6A-A) while dropping the Lady Tigers to 6-6 (1-2 in Region 6A-A).
Pitcher Janna Scheff threw just four strikes in the contest but saved her best for last as she sat the side down in order to close out the top of the seventh inning, ensuring Excel's win.
Coach Michael Adcock said the hard-fought contest shows the Lady Eagles have a lot of young players in key roles this year and they are having to play themselves into shape.
"We are not making a lot of routine fielding plays and we kept Darlington in the game a lot longer than we might have," he said.
Adcock said a big key to the win was the home run by Willingham.
"That was her first home run," he said, "and it helped us get a big lead and meant Darlington had to fight from behind most of the game."
Excel crossed home plate five times in the bottom of the first as Sydney Howell doubled her way on base then scored when Scheff helped her own cause with a double. Erin Brown, courtesy runner for Scheff, added the second run for the Lady Eagles, who then added three big runs when Willingham lifted her shot out of the park in center field, scoring Abby Hibbard and Kaye Sullins.
The Lady Eagles added a run in the second frame when Kaye Sullins drove in Hibbard.
Darlington came back in the top of the third with five runs, closing to 6-5. The Lady Tigers knotted the score at 6-all in the top of the fourth.
Excel responded with two runs in the bottom of the frame for an 8-6 lead and Darlington scored its final run in the top of the fifth, closing to 8-7.
The Lady Eagles added an insurance run in the bottom of the six, accounting for all the runs in their 9-7 region win.
Scoring the winning run was Kaye Sullins, who was driven in by sister Kelly Sullins.
"Kelly has had a hot bat all year for us and Kaye continues to come up with some of the biggest hits when we really need them," he said.
Scoring runs were Howell, Scheff, Hibbard, Mary Beth Burkhalter, Willingham, and Brown.
Adcock said beating Darlington in the region opener is significant for the Lady Eagles because some of the other teams will have to play catchup.
"It puts the pressure on them," he added.
However he said the Lady Eagles must improve their fielding or some of their regional foes will capitalize on those miscues.
"There are a lot of teams we might not be able to beat with this kind of play," he said.
However he said it's still early and Excel's younger players will eventually hit their stride.
"We'll eventually jell as a team," he said.
Excel returns to the diamond on Thursday, when it hosts North Cobb Christian in a region matchup.