When all of his starters had done everything they could against Holly Pond’s pitching staff — especially UA-Huntsville commitment Montana Holcombe — Hayden softball coach John Simmons had an idea.
Actually, it was his assistant coaches’ idea, but Simmons made the call, and it paid off.
Freshman pinch-hitter Abby White poked a base hit into center field that brought Caitlin Kirkland in from second base to finally give the fifth-ranked Wildcats a 3-2 win in an 11-inning marathon Monday.
“He [Simmons’ assistant] said he had a gut feeling about her, and we’ve been watching her at practice,” Simmons said. “We’ve had some confidence in her, and after 11 innings of being non-productive as far as scoring runs, we decided to give her a shot and see if it would get something going.”
The run, which came off reliever Emily Thompson, was the last of three straight hits in the bottom of the 11th. Kirkland got on board with a lead-off single, followed by another base hit by Madalyn McMickin before White's game-winner.
Both teams struggled against opposing pitchers for the first five innings. Holcombe struck out nine Wildcats in that span, giving up a hit and two walks, but two of those runners were caught stealing. Likewise, Kirkland — who went all 11 innings as the Cats starter — was equally stingy, allowing three scattered hits through six.
Hayden finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth when Alyssa Phillips got on base thanks to an error. Eighth-grade lead-off hitter Meleah followed up with a single, followed by a most unusual sacrifice fly to right field by Brooke Meadows — fielded nonchalantly by the Broncos, allowing Phillips to score from second base. Katie Parr’s subsequent double brought Hargett home.
But Holly Pond tied the game in the top of the seventh, thanks to a pair of singles by Holcombe and Lacy Malone to lead things off. Both scored on successive Wildcat errors.
Each team had chances to end the game in the 10th, but the Broncs couldn’t score with two runners on base, and Hayden couldn’t capitalize on a Phillips lead-off hit.
Kirkland gave up seven hits while striking out six with no walks. Thompson, who took over in the circle in the sixth, allowed seven hits plus a walk, and recorded no strikeouts.
Hargett was 2-for-5 with a run scored for Hayden (23-5-1). Taylor Rowell was 2-for-5, both on bunts singles, for Holly Pond.
The win comes on the heels of a trip last week to the 68-team Gulf Shores Tournament III, in which the Wildcats finished with a 7-2 record. They lost 2-0 to Class 6A power and eventual tournament champion Sparkman, and also dropped a 2-0 decision to Fairhope. The won a pair of 1-0 games over Athens, plus victories over Oneonta, Dallas County, Lexington, Tallassee and Sardis.
The Wildcats travel to Cordova, the No. 9 team in the ASWA Class 3A rankings, on Tuesday.
[Edited at 12':08 a.m. to correct White's last name.]