October 8, 2013

Survival instincts

Lady Cats softball hits well to win twice

Chris Whitfield
chriswhitfield@daltoncitizen.com

— For a high school softball team that came into Monday’s second day of play in the Region 7-4A tournament at Heritage Point with a winning percentage of .333, Dalton is playing like that was the team’s season batting average.

Following the same script the team used to make a run through the last two years’ region tournaments while earning a state playoff berth, the Lady Catamounts now find themselves one win away from a return trip to state after beating Southeast Whitfield 3-0 and LaFayette 6-5 in elimination games.

Dalton (12-20) moves on to face River Ridge in an elimination game with the winner guaranteed of finishing no worse than fourth in the region and clinching a spot in the Class 4A state playoffs. River Ridge lost to Northwest Whitfield 3-2 to fall into the loser’s bracket. The two teams play today at 5 p.m.

“We can’t make anything easy,” Dalton coach Stacey Parker said. “But we are hitting it hard and getting some good pitching, so I couldn’t ask anything more out of this group.”

Playing with a lineup that is made up mostly of underclassmen, the Lady Cats got outstanding pitching from Alli Swinford in the first game and sudden power in the second. Both added up to wins.

Swinford had a perfect game through five innings against Southeast before Kara Headrick got the Lady Raiders’ only hit of the game.

In the win over LaFayette, the Lady Cats were down 3-0 before rallying for three runs in the bottom of the fourth. They took the lead with a three-run sixth but had to hold on as LaFayette threatened in the seventh before Dalton was able to close out the game.

“I don’t know why, but we always do this at the end of the year,” Dalton catcher Kyle Harris said. “We are at our peak right now, and I think you can tell it. We feel really confident that we can get back to state.”

Harris played a big role in getting the team in this position, going 3-for-4 in the nightcap.

But the biggest stick over the course of the two games was Christen Pender. Her double in the bottom of the sixth against Southeast Whitfield drove in Swinford and Hailey Jones to break a scoreless tie, and she later scored on an error. In the win over LaFayette, she drove in two runs as she and Jones had back-to-back doubles in the inning. Eternity Goldman also had a run-scoring single to tie the game at 3-3.

When Dalton took control in the sixth, the bottom of the order sparked the offensive outburst. Blayne Thomason had a single, moved to second on a fielder’s choice and moved to third as Alex Brumbelow reached on an error. Gabby Wright followed with a slap bunt that drove in a run, and Swinford had a two-run single to left.

Southeast (7-19) ended the season with pitcher Sydney Covington giving up just four hits. The Lady Raiders finished a year of adversity that saw them have to reschedule a game because of injuries, and other issues left the team without enough players.

“At the beginning of the season, we had a speaker from Fellowship of Christian Athletes come and he spoke on adversity,” Southeast coach Kelley Barton said. “I am proud of the girls for not letting adversity strip them of their confidence and their hard work.”