It has been seven years since Randy Crawford led a high school softball team into action before heading into his debut as the new Central Lady Pounders coachTuesday night.
A pair of Central seniors, however, have seen plenty of action over the past four years in helping lead the Lady Pounders to three region titles and a pair of state tournament appearances and was more than up to task ensure Crawford’s welcome back was victorious.
Kerri Sylvester and Amanda Roy both produced key hits as Central rallied twice to open the 2018 campaign with a thrilling 9-8 extra-inning win over visiting Chattanooga Arts & Sciences.
“I said before I took this job that LeAnn (Shurette) had done a great job building a program here.
All of these girls are so coachable and that’s a tribute to the work she did with them. It was fun to be back out here again, especially with this group of girls,” Crawford said of the win.
The Lady Pounders found themselves down 7-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth before chipping way with a lone run in the frame and getting a pair to tie it in the seventh.
Catelynn Brown and MaKayla Gill got back-to-back singles in that sixth before Nia Townsend plated Brown with a ground out to close it to 7-5.
In the seventh, Roy led off with a rocket past the third baseman and sophomore Jaleesa Smith tripled in the first run and Sylvester looped single to left center to send it to extras.
CSAS put one on the board in the top of the eighth with three straight singles and a bases-loaded walk.
Alaina Thomas singled up the middle and Makyah Reynolds’ pop up found a bare spot between the infield and outfield. Ashley Twitty then loaded them with a single that was knocked down at second base before Jaida Harris took a 3-2 pitch for ball four to tally the run and put the pressure back on the Lady Pounders.
Cassidy Sims singled back up the middle to open the bottom of the eighth and Olivia Rawl walked. A passed ball moved both runners up for Roy, who delivered again with a shot to right field scoring Sims with the tying run.
A great relay from right by Twitty at second base nailed the potential winning run at the plate for the second out of the inning.
“I kinda kicked myself for that one, but when you are the home team you have to go for it. It had to be a perfect throw, relay and tag, and it was,” said Crawford.
He didn’t have to kick himself too long, though. Speedy Janara Smith drew a walk and Jaleesa Smith worked a walk too which loaded the bases. Sylvester then hit a roller to short which Janara Smith got a good jump on from second to get past the tag attempt of Jade Hester and then beat her throw to the third base bag allowing Roy to score the winner.
“I got a good jump on contact and saw the ball in front of me. I had to get on it just to avoid the tag and that momentum got me to the bag just in time,” said Smith of the running play.
“It was nice getting the win, especially for Coach Crawford. We were down a couple of times, but as long as we had outs, we felt like we had a chance. Our pitchers did a great job of shutting them down when they had to, and we’ve got some bats on this team that have had a lot of big hits over the years,” said Roy, who had two of Central’s 11 hits.
Sylvester’s certainly is no stranger to big hits. It was her homer which lifted Central to the state tournament her freshman year in the sectionals and Crawford more than expected her to come through with the tying RBI in the seventh and the winner in the eighth.
“When she comes up, I just tell whatever runner is closest to me to get ready to score,” Crawford laughed.
Senior Catelynn Brown got her first start on the mound for Central and pitched well until she tired in the fourth, walking the first two hitters before giving way to sophomore Jaleesa Smith who walked her first hitter to load them.
Smith settled down, though and gave up just a sacrifice fly off Thomas’ bat which tied it 4-4. She also worked out a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, allowing just one run in an inning that could have got away from her.
“It was big day for me. I just knew I had to do what I needed to do with the bases loaded. I was just happy to have the opportunity and glad it worked out,” Smith said.
Added Crawford of his pitcher who struck out six on the night: “She is going to be a good one before she is done. She just continues to get mentally tougher and tougher, and being in the situation tonight will go a long way in her development.”
CSAS’ Lulu Benn was gutsy in her start as well, striking out four and walking just one in her 110 pitches. The Lady Patriots banged out 13 hits on the night, but stranded 13 total runners and four errors in the field hurt the cause.
Thomas led the hit parade with four hits and drove in three runs for CSAS as every starter wound up with a hit. Jade Hester added two, including a double.
Central got two hits each from Sylvester, Roy and Janara Smith and Olivia Rawl had a two-run single in the game which featured a total of 310 pitches from four pitchers, 17 runs, 24 hits and 21 stranded runners.
CSAS 102 103 01 – 8 13 4
CENTRAL 031 001 22 – 9 11 2
Benn, Lexi (8) and Harris; Brown, Smith (4) and Sylvester.
(Contact James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on twitter @beachnut1134)