MONTGOMERY—The Rockets have been here before, sitting nice and pretty on a 2-0 start at the Class 6A State Softball Tournament.

Head coach Barry Brake led his team to back-to-back wins on Day 1 in Lagoon Park last season and the season before that, and saw both opportunities slip through his fingers. Gardendale placed third in 2017 and 2018.

“Every year we’ve gone 2-0 [on the first day] and then 0-2 [on the second day], but it’s going to be different this year,” said Auburn signee Carlee McCondichie, who was a single shy of the cycle during a 6-0 win over fourth-ranked Brookwood on Wednesday afternoon.

The senior shortstop went 3 for 4 at the plate with a double, a triple and a home run during the afternoon session. That followed up a two-hit, three-RBI effort in the tournament opener: a 12-6 beating of No. 7 Baldwin County.

McCondichie was certain she caught it clean in the top of the sixth inning against Brookwood.

“Oh yeah, I said, ‘that’s gone’ as I rounded first base,” said McCondichie of her second blast of the day—a two-run line to straightaway center field.

That shot ended the scoring at 6-0 and sent Gardendale home for the day. The Rockets (47-6-2) will return to Lagoon Park to face No. 2 Buckhorn in the winners’ bracket on Thursday at 12:30 p.m.

How is Gardendale handling this very familiar situation?

“Not that I’m superstitious or anything like that, but in the past we’ve gone to Bruster’s. Well, there will be no Bruster’s tonight. In the past we’ve gone for ice cream. Well, there won’t be any ice cream tonight. So whatever the opposite of that is,” said Brake of his approach going into Day 2.

Brake said he might buck the trend with a simple grilled cheese sandwich or perhaps some seafood tonight.

He called on two different arms against Brookwood, starting senior Kaitlyn Clark before junior Haley Horton checked in for the final six outs. Clark tossed five innings of scoreless, four-hit ball. She struck out six batters and walked two before leaving it to Horton in the sixth.

Perhaps Clark’s biggest jam came in the fourth when the Panthers put two runners on with no outs. Clark protected the 1-0 lead with a strikeout, followed by a lazy fly to center, followed by a diving stab by first baseman Kylee Franklin in foul territory.

Horton, a junior right-hander, worked two shutout innings of relief, striking out two and retiring each of the six batters she faced.

The Rockets’ first run crossed in the top of the second when Riley Phillips bunted into a throwing error. After two scoreless innings, Gardendale strung together three straight hits in the fifth to extend its lead to 3-0. McCondichie led off with a triple and quickly scored on a single from Savannah Pennington, who finished 2 for 4 at the dish. Pennington ran home on a Kylee Franklin single.

Abbie Waters swung the fourth run home in the top of the sixth, moments before McCondichie’s two-run smack to center.

Brake praised a senior class that has returned to Montgomery for the third straight season.

“Your big-time players make big-time plays in big games; that’s what McCondichie has done today, that’s what Pennington has done today, that’s what Clark has done today,” said Brake. “They’re not caught up in the moment, this is not too big for them.”

Erik Harris is the sports editor for The North Jefferson News. He can be reached at sports@njeffersonnews.com

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