Since dropping down to Class AA after the 2009 softball season, the Central Lady Pounders have owned District 6-2A competition. The Lady Pounders have rolled out dominate pitching and clutch hitting in a way that has been anything but fair to the opposition.
The dawning of the new season along with a new coach, however, was supposed to signal an end to the tight reign the girls in purple and gold have held, especially with the graduation of pitcher Brooke Parrott, arguably the best to ever wear the colors in the pitching circle.
Shhhhh … somebody forgot to tell this year’s bunch.
The Lady Pounders won their 30th consecutive regular-season District 6-2A game Thursday night thanks to, yep, dominate pitching and clutch hitting.
Central’s Mikayla Gill hit a walk off double in the bottom of the seventh inning and sophomore Jalesa Smith struck out seven to power Central to as 4-3 victory over visiting Signal Mountain.
Central has now won 78 of 79 regular-season district games since the move in classification and appear to be a force to be reckoned with once again.
“When Brooke graduated I think everyone kind of expected us to go away, but when you are used to winning, you don’t give it up so easily,” said senior Kerri Sylvester, who has started since her freshman year and has never lost a regular-season contest within the district.
Added fellow senior Amanda Roy: “Somebody is going to have to beat us because we aren’t going to just give it away.”
It was Roy who opened the seventh with her second hit of the night, promptly stole second base and came home with the winner when Gill laced a double just inside the left field stripe.
“I looked at Amanda when she came up to bat and told her ‘you’re my senior, get this thing started and be prepared to steal second, and we’ll get you home from there,” said first-year Central coach Randy Crawford.
“She has really stepped it up lately no matter where I hit her in the lineup. I put her at the top of the order tonight to get her as many plate appearances as possible.”
The Lady Pounders took an early 2-0 lead in the first when Gill singled with one out, Jalesa Smith walked and Sylvester got the first of three hits to load the bases. Catelyn Brown drove in the first run with single to right and Janara and Smith plated the second with her single.
The Lady Eagles got one of them back in the second inning, but it could have been worse if not for Smith’s ability to get out of trouble.
In the first, Sylvester threw out a runner stealing second and despite getting two hits and walk; Signal Mountain came up empty thanks to Smith’s strikeout and an induced grounder back to the mound.
In the second, Jordan Wright opened with a hard single to right that got by the fielder and landed her on third. A walk and a ground out put runners at second and third, but Brown made a nice play on a looper to short to tag the runner going to third. Wright scored on the play, but Smith got out of a bases-loaded jam after walking the next two hitters with another grounder to the circle that she handled.
“Jalesa is going to be a good one. She is getting more and more confident and she really fielded her position up the middle today. You can just see her getting more confident with every outing. Most of these girls know how to win games and that’s something you can’t teach,” Crawford said.
“My whole team just really encourages me and they pick me up if I struggle. I’ve got a lot of support out here and that means the world to you as a pitcher,” said Smith, who allowed five hits.
Central got the run back in the bottom of the third when Sylvester doubled down the line and went to third on a sacrifice fly. Janara Smith got her second RBI with her fly ball to center deep enough to easily score Sylvester on the tag up. It remained 3-1 until the seventh as Smith was at her best during the middle innings setting down eight in a row at one point.
Signal Mountain loaded the bases again in the fifth but got nothing. Cicelia Abello beat out an infield single and a walk and hit batter loaded them with one out. Smith fielded a one hopper back at the mound and Sylvester took the throw at home and fired a strike to first for the inning ending double play.
Signal Mountain starter Erica Woodward kept the game close with a scoreless fourth, fifth and sixth frame to give the Lady Eagles a chance and this time they didn’t squander it. A pair of walks and a wild pitch put runners at the corner for Audry Coterel, who delivered a two-out single to right that scored Payton Albritton and when the ball was bobbled, Woodward came around to score and knot it at 3-3.
That’s when Roy took Crawford’s pep talk to heart and ripped a single to right center. She easily stole second and Gill ripped the third pitch of the at-bat that got over the third baseman’s head and stayed just right of the chalk to send Roy scurrying home with the winner.
“Mikayla has gotten a lot of clutch hits for us so far. She is a confident hitter and she always no nonsense. Even in practice, she is always all business and she took care of it today,” Crawford said.
“I was just looking for a way to help the team win. I got a pitch I liked and got the barrel on it. I was just happy I got the chance and happy I took advantage of the opportunity,” Gill said of the hit.
Central pounded out nine hits in the win with the steady Sylvester getting three of them and Roy and Gill getting two each. Janara Smith had two RBI for the Lady Pounders, who rebounded from a rough weekend at the Meigs County Tournament to improve to 3-4 on the year.
“We came right back after the weekend and got to work trying to fix some things. We worked our tails off in the cold the last two days at practice and it paid off today,” added Crawford.
The win was a double bonus for Central: it got a district win and the game counted as a pool game for this weekend’s Ooltewah Tournament.
“If the tournament gets rained out, maybe they’ll declare us the champs,” joked Crawford.
If so, it would certainly be something girls such as Sylvester and Roy would be familiar with.
The Lady Eagles got five hits from five different players with Albritton, Abello and Woodward each reaching base three times each. Signal Mountain falls to 0-2 in league play.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN 010 000 2 – 3 5 0
CENTRAL 201 000 1 – 4 9 1
Woodward and Coterel; Smith and Sylvester.