Josh Swiney couldn’t have asked for a much bigger challenge in his debut as Coahulla Creek High School’s softball coach than facing a cross-county rival that also happens to be the 2012 Class 4A state champion.
But that was the task Monday afternoon as Northwest Whitfield came across the north part of the county, and for three innings, Swiney’s Lady Colts held their own.
Then Northwest’s offense woke up.
Senior third baseman Mallory Souther blasted a two-run home run as part of a 2-for-3 day and BriLeigh Baggett gave up just two hits as the Lady Bruins used a four-run fourth inning to pull away in a 9-1 mercy-rule win in five innings.
Despite her big effort, Souther said it took a while for first-game anxiety to subside.
“It was a big crowd, and I am not sure that we were ready for that,” she said. “I think it was a little jitters in the stomach, but I think once we got through the lineup, we settled down.”
Lady Bruins coach Jason Brooker said his team had a 2-for-3 day all the way around.
“There are three phases to softball, and we outhit them and outpitched them,” Brooker said. “But they played a lot better defensively than we did.”
Northwest also had a lapse on the basepaths — a run was erased from the scoreboard in the second inning when the Lady Bruins’ Alyssa Ward left early from third while trying to score on Bayli Cruse’s one-out liner to center with the bases loaded. But none of the fielding errors Brooker referred to came back to haunt the Lady Bruins.
For Coahulla Creek, it was the walks, wild pitches and passed balls that hurt early. Pitcher Erin Harden held the Northwest offense to only four hits in three innings of work, but she had four walks and hit two batters.
The Lady Bruins scored a run in the first without benefit of a hit as Colbie Thomas led the game off with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a wild pitch.
Pitching problems also put runners in scoring position in the second after Gabbi Helton led off with a single and Jamison Payne drew a walk. Payne was erased on Thomas’ grounder to short, but Helton scored to make it 2-0.
Coahulla Creek answered in the second as Sydney Ross drew a walk to start the inning, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and went to third on a groundout. She scored when Makenzie Eaton beat out a grounder.
Souther singled in the top of the third and later came around to score on Payne’s single to right, making the score 3-1, and from there Baggett found her stride in the circle. After giving up a single to Shelbe Dilbeck to start the third, she struck out the next three batters and didn’t give up a hit the rest of the game.
Northwest put the game away in the fourth, taking advantage of a Coahulla Creek error by following it with back-to-back doubles from Ashley Conner and Macy Weeks before Souther connected on her homer. Conner and Helton each finished 2-for-3, while Hannah Godfrey was 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored.
Despite the loss, Swiney was impressed with his team, which jumps into Region 5-3A play today at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe. The game is scheduled for 5:55 p.m., but Swiney said the first pitch time could be moved up because of the weather.
“That is by far the best hitting team that we will face all year long,” Swiney said of the Lady Bruins. “We have to cut down on the walks and the errors, but they fought against one of the best teams in the state. One thing I really like about this group is they give total effort, and it was that same mentality tonight even when we got down.”
• Murray County 3, Pickens 0: The strong pitching that has led the Lady Indians during the early part of the season continued, with Whitney Gribble throwing a four-hit shutout while striking out seven in the road win.
Lindsey Dunn finished 2-for-4 with a two-RBI double for Murray County (4-2). Aubrie Osborne finished 2-for-4 and Ariel Smith scored once and drove in another run. Ashley Harrison and Cassidy Callahan scored the other two runs.
In the Lady Indians’ four wins, they’ve allowed a combined five runs. In the two losses, opponents have scored 14 runs.
Despite having a winning record, the team’s run differential is 19-19.
“Our hitting will come around,” Murray County coach Sandra Johnston said. “We keep playing hard and playing together, and so far we’ve won more than we’ve lost.”