Central and East Hamilton finished first and second in the District 6-AA regular-season softball standings, so it's really no surprise that they advanced to the winner's bracket final on Wednesday night at Warner Park.
Top-seed Central had very few problems getting past East Ridge by a 10-0 final in five innings. Number-two East Hamilton didn't have it quite as easy as the Lady Hurricanes had to overcome a three-run deficit to post a harrowing 6-5 victory over the Hixson Lady Wildcats.
Central is now 28-10 while East Hamilton is now 20-14 as they prepare for their winner's bracket final at 7:30.
Central 10, East Ridge 0: Things didn't start off very well for the Lady Pioneers as leadoff hitter Holly Wilson had a collision with Central first baseman Chasidy Ainsley on a groundout. Wilson tumbled awkwardly toward the ground, breaking her fall with her arms.
She was finished for the game as she headed to the hospital afterward for x-rays on a possible broken wrist.
Things went downhill for the Lady Pioneers after that.
Brook Womack led off with a single for the Lady Pounders before Brooke Eller reached on an error. Hannah Powell then ripped a single up the middle that rolled all the way to the fence as all three scored for a quick 3-0 lead.
The second inning was the big one for Central as they sent 10 hitters to plate and scored six runs on four hits and two more errors by the Lady Pioneers.
Womack had a two-run single while Brittany Sylvester drove in another with a triple.
The Lady Pounders then put icing on the cake with the clinching run in the third.
Jasmine Cobb got hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and later scored on a single by Eller.
While Central was collecting those 10 runs on eight hits, Central senior Shelby Willard had total control as she won by allowing just two hits. She finished with a dozen strikeouts and two walks.
Willard allowed a leadoff single by Shelby Hamill in the second before striking out the next three hitters. She struck out the side three times.
"I'm glad that we won, but I like to pitch in tough situations," said Willard after the game ended.
"I liked having a bunch of strikeouts, but I'd rather not have those two walks. I'm always more comfortable when we hit the ball hard and score a lot of runs. That takes the burden off of my shoulders," Willard added.
Central coach LeeAnne Shurette really didn't want to focus on the final score of Tuesday's game.
"We're just trying to concentrate on taking it one game at the time, knowing that funny things can happen in post-season tournaments. We came out aggressive and did what we were supposed to do. It seems like we have better success when we play like that," Shurette nodded.
East Ridge coach Sandy Mauser knew that her girls were facing a tough Central team. It didn't turn out like she or her girls wanted.
"I hate injuries," she began, not knowing for sure the extent of Wilson's injury.
"We didn't challenge them today like we should have. We just didn't come to compete. We struggled with our bats and never got anything going offensively. And Central is a very well-coached, hard-hitting team," Mauser added.
The Lady Pioneers dropped to 11-18 with the loss and were playing Tyner in a loser's bracket game after the game with Central.
East Hamilton 6, Hixson 5: Things didn't start on a positive note for the Lady Hurricanes, but they finished up on one.
Hixson took a 3-0 lead in the first inning when the Lady Hurricanes committed four errors.
East Hamilton made it 3-1 with a run in the second before taking the lead for good with four runs in the third.
Sophomore second baseman Kelsey Payne ripped her 12th home run of the season, a two-run blast to give her team the lead for the first time at 5-3.
Hixson added single runs in the fourth and sixth innings, but East Hamilton maintained the upper hand with another run in the fifth.
Junior Maria Walshe was the winning pitcher for the Lady Hurricanes as she allowed 10 hits and one walk while striking out five. She also had a pair of triples as East Hamilton finished with nine hits.
Shaliyah Geathers had a triple among two hits while Rachel Gamble added two hits for the winners as well.
"We didn't do as well as I would have liked, but a 'W' is a 'W' and that's all that matters at this point," said East Hamilton coach Cara Stiles after her team had improved to 20-14.
"We didn't play very well at the beginning, but we did a good job of coming back and answering the challenge and I'm happy about that," Stiles concluded on a positive note.
EAST RIDGE 000 00 -- 0 2 3
CENTRAL 361 0x -- 10 8 0
Watkins and Hamill; Willard and Powell.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)