Needing what could only be viewed as too many runs and down to their last out in the first game of Wednesday’s best-of-three series against Banks County High School in the opening round of the Class 3A state playoffs, the North Murray Lady Mountaineers were looking at a must-win second game.
The Lady Mountaineers didn’t need that last out.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, North Murray trailed 8-1. But one hit followed another, with Kaitlin Epps’ single scoring Sarah Silvers for a 9-8 win. The Lady Mountaineers continued climbing in the second game with a 12-2 mercy-rule win in six innings to sweep the first round.
Epps was the first baserunner and the last batter in the big inning for North Murray (17-18), Region 5’s No. 2 seed. With Epps reaching first on a walk, Memorie Pierce popped up to right field for the second out. Skylar Key kept the game going for the Lady Mountaineers with what looked at the time like a harmless single.
“I didn’t think it would start anything,” Key said.
As the producer of the first of eight consecutive hits, she was glad to be wrong. Megan Pittman and Samantha Stafford had back-to-back RBI doubles, Baylee Sutton followed with an RBI infield single, Kara Deal had an RBI single and Amber Bandy cut the deficit to 7-6 with a two-run double. Silvers’ infield single plus a Banks County error scored Bandy and tied the game.
North Murray coach Steve Granger felt the energy change.
“As we got a couple hits, it got a little contagious,” he said. “Then we started putting some runs on the board. Before that last hit, you felt (Epps) would come through.”
Epps’ hit found its way through the middle of the infield and completed the comeback, bringing tears to her eyes.
“We were all shaking,” Epps said. “I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations, but that one was crazy. There was a lot on the line.”
Region 7 No. 3 seed Banks County (16-10) scored five runs in the first, one run in the second and two in the fourth to chase Deal, North Murray’s starting pitcher. Sutton pitched three scoreless innings and Stafford had an RBI single in the third for the Lady Mountaineers’ first run.
“(Sutton) did an outstanding job coming in and approaching it like a tie game and not an 8-1 game,” Granger said.
Next for North Murray is a trip to Region 8 champion Franklin County, which swept Decatur in the first round with a pair of 11-0 wins.
This is the third straight year the Lady Mountaineers, who entered the region tournament seeded fifth but finished second, have reached the state playoffs. It’s their second straight year making it with a losing record.
“We blew through a region tournament because we were all on fire,” Epps said.
Playing as the visitors in the second game, North Murray continued its hot hitting. Pittman started the game with a home run to center field and in the sixth inning hit a grand slam to finish the scoring. Silvers laid down a bunt single with the bases loaded for a 2-0 lead during the first inning.
Granger was worried his team would be “too up” and “not focused” going into the second game.
“After Megan’s home run to start it,” he said, “I knew we were fine.”
After the Lady Leopards responded with two runs in the first, Cochran led off the Lady Mountaineers’ fourth inning with a triple, Pittman followed with an RBI single and North Murray scored three more runs in the inning for a 6-2 lead. The Lady Mountaineers got two more runs in the sixth — from Cochran’s bases-loaded walk and Keys’ bases-loaded infield single — before Pittman’s grand slam.
Pittman finished the doubleheader 6-for-8 with two homers, a triple and two doubles. She had seven RBIs, with six coming in the second game.
Sutton pitched the first two innings, while Deal worked the last four. Sutton’s day included five innings of work in which she gave up one earned run on four hits and three walks. Deal pitched eight innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and 12 walks while striking out two.
At the plate, Stafford finished the doubleheader 4-for-7, Sutton had two hits in the second game and Bandy had an RBI in the second game.