By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
STEPHENS CITY -- There were more unearned than earned runs in the game as the underdog host Millbrook Pioneers moved out to a six-run lead after five innings against the Sherando and held on after a furious Warriors' late innings rally to record the final out with the based loaded and eke out a 6-5 win Wednesday afternoon in Northwestern District softball action.
It was Sherando's third district loss, and, coupled with Skyline's 14-0 win over Handley, enabled the the Hawks (7-1) to clinch the regular-season championship.
Facing a significant 6-0 deficit, the Warriors broke through for two tallies in the sixth as Millbrook starting pitcher, junior Mackenzi Steele walked opposing pitcher Courtney Reid and first baseman Heidi Brown to start the frame. But Sherando's magic rabbit could only get three of four paws out the hat, falling one run short with the bases loaded.
After Carly Nixon struck out, catcher Haley Miles reached on an infield hit to third, loading the bases for second baseman Sara Stickman.
The aptly-named Stickman used her stick to send a double into the left-center gap, plating Reid and Brown, maxing the cost to Millbrook (7-10, 3-6 Northwestern) of those two weeks. Steele then got Allison Bauer to ground out and Megan Leake to fly out to end the inning.
Sherando (10-7, 7-3 Northwestern) mounted an even bigger rally in the seventh, batting around to come within an eyelash to tying the score.
Lead-off batter Michaela Carper laced a single to right field, but was cut down at third base as Katherine Seymour reached on Steele's mishandling of a come-backer and late throw to first, as first baseman Megan Atlee whipped the ball across the diamond to third baseman Kellie Jenkins, who tagged out the overly-ambitious Carper.
Reid's grounder, as Seymour advanced to third and Reid to second on the miscue.
Jenkins was the recipient of the next batted ball, a grounder by Brown, and she held the ball not sure she could throw to first, then trying, unsuccessfully to catch Seymour off third base -- result, infield hit and bases loaded.
Carly Nixon then hit a medium-high short fly ball to center that center fielder Sydney Barr reared on, but stumbled trying to make the catch, and Seymour scored the Warriors' third run (unearned) on the error, bases loaded again.
Miles then hit a come-backer to Steele, who tried to make best possible play, throwing to home to get the lead runner, but catcher Emily Reid couldn't keep the ball in her glove, as Reid slid home with Sherando's fourth run (unearned).
Stickman (2-for-3) drew a walk with the bases loaded and gained her third RBI, forcing Brown across the plate with the Warriors' fifth run.
Steele then exhibited nerves of steel by getting Bauer on a first-pitch pop-out, and Leake then grounded to Jenkins, who knew exactly what to with the ball this time, taking two quick steps the third base bag to force out Miles with the game-ender.
Steele shut out the Warriors through her first five innings in the circle, giving up three hits, striking out four and issuing two walks over that stretch.
Steele's final line was five runs (two earned) on improved to 5-and-7 in the circle also went 2-for-4 at the plate, knocking in the Pioneers' first run with a two-out single in the third.
"I just try to tell myself, 'I know how to throw strikes, I do it every day'," Steele said. "So, I just tried to keep calm and tried to throw strikes and hit my corners and hit my spots. When I started to get a little wild toward the end of the game, I just had to calm down, take deep breaths, and had to adjust and focus more.
"It feels pretty good. It feels like last year. We beat [Sherando] twice last year, and it was, seriously, the best feeling, just to beat a big rival."
How about those last two mound conferences in the seventh inning, with the entire Millbrook infield gathered around?
"We just gotta make plays, we gotta buckle down," Millbrook first-year coach Mandee Madden said. "We've got a pretty young team, and we needed to grow up, mentally, right there. I think our girls really dug deep, and played with a lot of heart tonight, and that's what really helped us."
Barr (2-for-4) got the only extra-base hit for Millbrook, with a lead-off double in the fourth. Atlee (2-for-3) also got multiple hits for the Pioneers.
Only three of Millbrook's six runs were earned, as Reid gave up eight hits, struck out seven, issued five walks, and loosed two wild pitches, as her record dropped to 10-7.
"It's pretty simple, we just didn't come out to play at all today," Reid said. "That's what happens when you make errors and we came out flat with our bats."
Sherando committed four errors, two of which led to three unearned runs in the fourth inning.
"You give [the opposition] those extra outs and that's what happened," Sherando coach Clarence Smith said. "I thought Mackenzi did a great job pitching, she kept [them] at bay early. We were sleepy out there and it took us a while to get going.
"In turn, they ended up giving us opportunities late in the game. We were knocking on the door step, but couldn't quite get through. I feel like the better team won today. They got out of the gate early, and I was proud of my girls for persevering and they stayed with it. We had opportunities and we just didn't capitalize."
Sherando will host the Skyline on Tuesday, and conclude the regular season at Handley next Thursday.