LONGVIEW -- Kaitlynn Earle hit a walk-off single over Pittsburg's second baseman and gave Carthage a thrilling 12-11 win and a 1-0 series lead in perhaps the region's most anticipated regional quarterfinals setup.

But it depends who you ask whether Earle's rally back from an 0-2 count for the winning contact was a top play or the top play.

Friday's Class 4A regional quarterfinal series opener between the Lady Dawgs and Lady Pirates featured four lead changes, two relievers tasked with saving the game before the game entered the fourth inning, four homes runs, 25 combined hits and eight combined errors.

It was gut check time for two of East Texas' best programs this season. And, despite setback after setback, it's Carthage smelling like a rose as the series resumes today at 1 p.m. back at LeTourneau University in Longview.

"I told them it wasn't the prettiest game we ever played," Lady Dawgs coach Matt Folmar said. "We made a lot of mistakes that made me want to pull my hair out a lot of the times, but I am extremely proud of the fight these girls showed. You get down 5-0, it's really easy to turn it in."

Not only did Carthage (27-6-2) trail 5-0 after two defensive innings, after it put up four-spots in the third and fourth frames for an 8-5 lead, Pittsburg (15-8-1) recorded a five-run fifth inning and added a run in the top sixth for an 11-8 advantage.

The remainder of the game?

Pittsburg gave up three runs in the bottom sixth.

Reliever Chelcie Pierce, who entered the game in a bases-loaded jam back in the third inning and got two force outs at the plate to stop the bleeding, pitched a perfect seventh frame.

Carson Robertson led off the bottom of the seventh with a double off the wall, immediately advanced to third on a wild pitch and got knocked in by Earle two outs later.

"We never gave up," Earle said. "I mean, we were down 5-0 at one point and the dugout never got quiet. They kept us up. They helped us. Even the players that weren't playing were a big part of us tonight. We just kept working to hit the ball like we know we could. It never seemed like it was that big a deal."

Carthage's Taylor Willis and Pittsburg's Bailey Smith are supposed to have major says in the outcome of the series. Both aces are going to be more fresh than expected for Game 2.

Willis left the contest with one out and the bases loaded in the top of the third, down 5-0. Smith exited after allowing three straight Carthage batters on base and saw the lead shrink to 5-2 on a two-run homer by Kayman Courtney.

Pierce and Pittsburg's Kaycee Parker went the rest of the distance. Both relievers were at times on the hook for the loss and in position to get a starter's quality win.

Folmar said Pierce has only pitched about 30 percent of the Lady Dawgs' innings this season. Pierce is the everyday starter at second base.

"Like he said, I haven't pitched much this season," Pierce said. "So, I wasn't really expecting to pitch. But whenever I got in the situation, I was kind of like, 'OK, so I need to step up and be a leader. Keep the momentum on our side. Just throw strikes.'"

Where does the series go from here?

Pittsburg can force a rubber match immediately following today's 1 p.m. game with a win. If not, Carthage will move on to face either Aubrey or Crandall in the regional semifinal round.

"It's the same as it's always been for us," Earle said. "We're going to sleep good tonight, eat our favorite cereal, and we're going to come back here and play some ball."

Carthage 12, Pittsburg 11

Game 1, Class 4A Regional Quarterfinals
At LeTourneau University, Longview

Pittsburg             230    051     0    --    11    12      4
Carthage            004    403      1    --    12    13     4

Pitchers and catchers

  • Pittsburg: Bailey Smith, Kaycee Parker (3) and Madison Samson
  • Carthage: Taylor Willis, Chelcie Pierce (3) and Hope Kruebbe

WP -- Pierce
LP -- Parker

Doubles

Pittsburg: Tori Henderson, Sydney Reynolds
Carthage: Pierce, Carson Robertson

Home Runs

Pittsburg: Smith, McKenna Wood
Carthage: Pierce, Kayman Courtney