By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
KIMBERLY — With the game tied at 1-1 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, Hayden softball coach John Simmons tried to shake things up a bit. He replaced his young-but-trusty lead-off hitter Meleah Hargett with pinch hitter Evin Bibb, who promptly got on board with a hit.
That move didn’t end up the way he wanted, as Hargett (returning to the game to run) was picked off at third base as Brooke Meadows moved her around. But then Meadows scored the winning run when Curry’s catcher overthrew third base in a pickoff attempt, as the Wildcats won a 2-1 heavyweight battle late Thursday night.
The victory in the winner’s bracket second round of the Class 5A Area 12 Tournament put the Cats into the championship game, and more importantly punched their tickets for the regional tournament next week in Tuscaloosa.
With two teams noted for their ace pitchers, runs were bound to be at a premium.
The Yellow Jackets struck first in the second inning, as Haleigh Lane led the inning off with a double, and came around to score on a hit by Gabby Englebert.
Hayden tied the game in the next inning on back-to-back one-out triples, first by Meadows and then by third baseman Katie Parr. But Parr was put out at home plate on the back end of a double play, as pitcher Caitlin Kirkland flew out to short right field — shallow enough to allow Englebert to fire a strike to catcher Emily Aaron, who withstood the slide by the much-larger Parr.
Kirkland was in command from the circle. After the run in the second and a one-out hit in the third, Kirkland retired 16 consecutive Curry batters to take her into the extra inning.
It was there that Kirkland ran into trouble, giving up three straight two-out singles. But the Wildcats were bailed out when pitcher Holli McGinnis tried to score on a base hit by Logan Black. Catcher Madalyn McMickin dropped the ball as McGinnis came charging in, but McGinnis was called out for sliding with excessive force — a call which caused loud protests from Yellow Jacket coaches and fans.
Kirkland struck out five Curry batters with six hits and no walks. McGinnis gave up eight hits to go with three strikeouts and one walk.
Curry 4, Mortimer Jordan 0: In a first-round game, Jackets pitcher Ashlee Swindle was at her best in striking out seven Blue Devils, as the host team simply could not generate any offense.
Curry scored twice in the third inning on a two-run double by shortstop Shannon Rowe. They struck again in the sixth on back-to-back RBI doubles by Swindle and Kaylee Horton.
Jordan pitcher Bailey Murphy tallied three strikeouts and eight hits in the loss.
Hayden 11, Curry 1 (5 innings): The Wildcats’ first round game ended early when Parr ,the pitcher in this contest, hit a double that scored two runs that capped off a six-run rally and invoked the mercy rule.
Parr fanned eight Viking hitters, and conceded just two hits. The lone run scored on an error.
The Cats scored their first five runs without benefit of a base hit, thanks to Viking walks, hit batters and errors.
Mortimer Jordan 15, Walker 5 (6 innings): In the loser’s bracket semifinal, the Blue Devils played mainly their bench players as they eliminated the Vikings.
Natalie Johnsey got the win in relief of Savannah Crawford. Johnsey came in with two out in the second to stop a Viking rally, and struck out five of the next eight batters.
Thursday’s schedule: Jordan and Curry tangle again at 10 a.m., with the winner facing Hayden in the championship game at noon and the loser being eliminated. If Hayden loses the championship game, another game will follow immediately thereafter in the double-elimination tournament.