By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
KIMBERLY — Freshman Sharley Miller pitched a complete game, striking out eight batters as she paced fifth-ranked Hayden to a 3-0 victory over No. 7 Curry in the championship game of the Class 5A Area 12 softball tournament at Mortimer Jordan on Friday.
It’s the first time that the Wildcats have won an area title since the current playoff format was introduced in 2007, and the only time that the Blue Devils haven’t been the champs. They were eliminated by the Yellow Jackets in the day’s first game, losing by a 2-0 score.
Miller, the Wildcats’ third pitcher who generally didn’t go the distance in the regular season, was in top form. Coach John Simmons had planned to let Miller go about three innings or so, then relieve her with ace Caitlin Kirkland. But after just one hit and one walk through four innings, Simmons decided to let her go as far as she could — which turned out to be the entire game.
“We’ve been letting her go a little longer in a couple of tournaments, letting her go through the order one time against some really good teams,” Simmons said. “We decided to just let her go and see how it went, and she stayed strong and kept them off balance with her pitches.”
The Wildcat batters also had a good day against Curry ace Holli McGinnis. Catcher Madalyn McMickin led off the second inning with a solo homer to left field; later in the inning, Kayla Byrd reached on an error and scored on another.
Left fielder Nikki Witt scored the other Wildcat run in the fourth when she got on base with a walk, then came around on a double by Madison McMickin.
The only real problem with Hayden’s game was base running. Runners were thrown out five times on running mistakes, including a pickoff at first.
Curry and Hayden both advance to the regional tournament in Tuscaloosa’s Munny Sokol Park next Friday. Hayden will face Springville at 5 p.m.
Curry 2, Mortimer Jordan 0: In the loser’s bracket final, the Yellow Jackets’ Shauna Rowe was 0-for-2 at the plate, but drove in both runs in the game.
Her grounder to shortstop in the fourth inning brought in her sister Shannon, who started the inning off with a single and moved to third on another hit by Haleigh Lane. In the seventh, Shauna hit a sacrifice fly to left to drive home Ella Banks, who led off with a single and a two-base error that put her on third.
For the Blue Devils, it was a case if not using the few offensive opportunities they had. Their first two batters of the game got on board with singles, but were left on base after Jackets pitcher Ashlee Swindle handle a ground-out, then fanned two batters.
Simpson finished with eight strikeouts against four hits.
Leadoff hitter Shelby Maze was 2-for-2 and reached base on all three plate appearances, with a single, an error and a triple. But after her three-bagger in the sixth inning, she was hung out to dry in a rundown on a squeeze play in which the batter failed to connect.
Bailey Murphy struck out five and gave up four hits plus a walk for Jordan. One of her runs was earned.
The loss means that the Devils (21-15) will miss the state tournament for only the second time since fast-pitch softball was introduced as a varsity sport in 1995.