MINNEAPOLIS -- Atlanta entered the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series softball playoffs as a No. 4 seed, with just one win through three days of pool play.
Atlanta's lone win came in an 11-0 decision over fellow No. 4 seed St. Louis on Monday. St. Louis exited the playoffs early Tuesday morning with a 0-5-1 record. But Atlanta head coach Richard Lee wasn't watching his team earn its first win -- he was already scouting the competition.
Knowing where Atlanta stood in the standings, Lee was fully aware his team would draw reigning champions Santo Domingo in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday morning.
The early scouting paid off, as Atlanta upset the No. 1 team -- which had a perfect 5-0 record going into the playoffs -- 9-4, drawing a rematch with Cleveland for a trip to the RBI World Series championship game on Wednesday at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium at the University of Minnesota.
"I had to sell it to them," Lee said of the tournament. "We came here with just one pitcher, and we know that one pitcher can't pitch five or six ballgames. … They didn't like it, but I said, 'We've got to lose, so that way we can get to the last-place seed and play the No. 1 team.'
"I said, 'If ya'll want to beat the best team, we've got to come in last.' It's do or die. You've got to take the best team with a fresh pitcher, we've got a chance or winning. That was our goal, and it worked. We're going to the championship."
It was a bold move, but it paid off.
Shouting "nobody scores" as it took the field in the bottom of the seventh while holding a 3-2 lead over Cleveland, Atlanta worked a 1-2-3 inning and booked a trip to the championship game on Wednesday against Houston RBI, which pulled off a 1-0 upset of its own over the other No. 1 seed, Harrisburg.
Atlanta's semifinal game was a rematch from Sunday's 11-0 loss, in which Cleveland routed the Georgia squad. Cleveland capitalized off several defensive mistakes on Atlanta's part in that game and kept momentum at the plate. Tuesday was a completely different story.
LaKaylin Lee, who pitched all seven innings for Atlanta and gave up only six hits and no walks, went 3-for-4 at the plate, scoring two runs and driving in the go-ahead run.
With Kendalyn Arceneaux on third, courtesy running for catcher Nicole Lyday, who reached on a base hit, Lee drove her third single of the game just beyond the infield gravel to score Arceneaux and claim the 3-2 lead.
Lee scored Atlanta's first two runs as well. In the fifth, Kayla Cato drove in Lee on a base hit to knot the game at 2. Lee, who led off the inning with a base hit to right, profited on a Cleveland defensive miscue, which gave her more time to score and allowed Cato to reach second.
The two paired up in the first to give Atlanta the initial 1-0 lead. Lee again led off with a base hit to left field, and Cato followed two batters later with a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Lee from third.
"She pitched well and she hung in there," Richard Lee said. "And then she hit well. So she put on a clinic, and I appreciate that."
Cleveland made things interesting. After a 3-1 win over Nobu Yamauchi RBI earlier in the day to reach the semifinals, it battled back from a 1-0 deficit and held a 2-1 lead for a short time.
Trailing 1-0 before its first at-bat, Cleveland evened the score at 1 in the second, as Alexandra Scali roped a double to left field, scoring Erin Wolansky. One inning later, Cleveland took a 2-1 lead, as Lauren Peak led off and reached on a misplayed ball at second that led to a base hit. After stealing second, a fumbled catch on Peak's attempt to steal third allowed her to score.
Although Cleveland strung together three more hits over the remaining four innings, the team couldn't get timely hits to create a threat, leading to the defeat.
After taking an 11-0 defeat at Cleveland's hands Sunday, the victory was a little sweeter for Atlanta.
"Whatever happened Sunday, that's the past," Lee said. "It's a new day. I told them yesterday, when we got our first win over St. Louis, it's a new week."
Meanwhile, Houston profited off a rematch of its own with Harrisburg. The two met on Monday, a game in which Harrisburg kept Houston at bay for five innings, piling on five runs before the Texas club was able to score. Houston took the loss, 5-2, but found success in its second chance.
Houston starting pitcher Monica Montelongo worked 6 1/3 shutout innings and gave up just five hits.
Montelongo's success on the mound spelled victory for Houston, as it scored just one run on five hits. In the second, Alexus Gonxalez drove in LaShonda Jones for the 1-0 lead. Harrisburg threatened in the seventh, but Houston turned a double play to claim the open spot in the championship game.
Harrisburg's lack of offense was a testament to Houston's defense. Harrisburg reached the semifinal after it routed St. Louis, 13-0, earlier in the day. Lexus Allen threw a perfect game, striking out 11 of 15 batters.
Before the rematch with Harrisburg, Houston used a walk-off double from Montelongo to score Cameron Lavergne for a come-from-behind 4-3 win against Hoboken.
Kelly Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.