May 8, 2010 11:51:00 PM
HAMILTON -- The Hamilton High School fast pitch softball team learned a valuable lesson here Saturday afternoon -- when you live by the sword, sometimes you also die by the sword.
Last week, the Lady Lions switched to a "small ball" strategy en route to a 7-3 win against East Union in the second and deciding game of their best-of-three series with the Lady Urchins in the opening round of the MHSAA Class 2A playoffs.
Saturday afternoon, "small ball" tactics came back to haunt Hamilton as the Eupora Lady Eagles employed the same strategy to near perfection to oust the Lady Lions in a 12-8 win in the rubber match of their three-game, second-round series.
Earlier in the day, Hamilton forced a deciding third game with a come-from-behind 5-3 decision to even the series at one game apiece after Thursday''s 11-10 loss to the Lady Eagles at Eupora.
"Playing against a good team like Hamilton, you just can''t get too confident even when you''re up by several runs," said Eupora coach Trae Embry, who counts Hamilton coach Jason Cobb as a very good friend. "You''ve got to just keep plugging away and try to add a run or two any way you can because you know coach Cobb will keep his girls in the game any way he can."
Locked in a scoreless game in the top of the third inning of Game 3, Eupora utilized a leadoff walk to Karlee Stewart and two perfectly placed bunts by Sarah Grace Wade and Haileigh Hodges to load the bases off starting pitcher Lyndsey Williams. Lexie Boykins followed with another free pass to plate Stewart with the Lady Eagles'' first run of the game.
Hamilton appeared to have worked its way out of the no-out, bases-loaded jam with minimal damage thanks to a bang-bang double play as Wade was forced at the plate on a throw by Williams to catcher Katie Beth Dahlem who then gunned Taylor Neal out at first. But LaShonda Embry stroked a clutch two-run single to right and then scored herself on an Allie Steadman shot to left to give Eupora a 4-0 lead.
Hamilton took advantage of a two-out error to tie the score 4-4 in the bottom of the third. Raimi Bryan and Caitlyn Atkins got the rally started with walks, but a pop to second and a strikeout brought Williams to the plate with runners at first and second. A dropped pop-up in foul territory gave Williams new life and she took advantage of the error with an RBI single to right.
Shelby Savage followed with a two-run single to make it 4-3 and then Chauncia Willis tied the game with a run-scoring single.
Eupora came back with a tie-breaking run in the top of the fourth on a single and a pair of Hamilton miscues, but the Lady Lions regained the lead in the bottom of the frame with a two-out rally which featured a single by Anna Imel, a walk to Dahlem and a full-count, two-run shot to left-center by Williams off a change-up by Boykin -- the winning pitcher.
Hamilton dodged a bullet in the top of the fifth when Eupora loaded the bases on a walk and a pair of singles by Lauren Douglas and Embry, but Taylor Hyland came up with a clutch grounder to nail the runner at first on a throw which she made from her knees.
Eupora returned the favor in the bottom of the inning as Hyland laced a triple past a diving Hodges in right only to be called out at the plate on the back-end of a double play on a bunt attempt by Bryan.
Trailing by a run in the top of the sixth, Eupora sent nine batters to the plate and scored four times to take a 9-6 lead. A walk and a controversial bunt attempt put two runners on and brought on a pitching change for the Lady Lions, with Williams going to short and Savage moving to the mound.
Another perfectly placed bunt by Boykin loaded the bases to set up an RBI single by Neal, a sacrifice fly by Embry, an error, and RBI singles by Allie Steadman and Katelyn Rodgers to give the Lady Eagles the lead for good at 9-6.
A walk, a stolen base, a three-base error and bunt singles by Neal and Embry accounted for three more runs in the top of the seventh to push the score to 12-6.
Down by a half-dozen runs in their last at-bat, the Lady Lions scored twice when Savage walked, moved to third on a single by Willis and scored on a sacrifice fly by Hyland. Pinch-runner Addie Thompson then scored Hamilton''s final run on a second sacrifice fly, this one by Cheyenne Logan.
"Their short game really hurt us," said Cobb. "Defensively, we didn''t handle the pressure they put us under very well and that''s been our Achilles heel all season long. Usually, when you score eight and 10 runs in a fast-pitch game, you''re going to win most of the time -- if you play good defense."
Cobb said his team''s defensive lapses aside, Eupora was the better team when it counted and all the credit should go to Embry.
"Coach Embry is one of my closest coaching friends and he does a tremendous job at Eupora," said Cobb. "We talk just about every day about softball and I can''t think of a better person to talk to than one who has won at least five state championships. I try to get advice from the best and he certainly fits the bill."
Embry credited his team''s three-run seventh-inning as the game-changer.
"Those last three runs changed the whole complexion of the game," said Embry. "Only three runs down, coach Cobb would have bunted his way back in the game, but six down, they had to play for the hits."
n Hamilton 5, Eupora 3: In the first game, Eupora jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but Hamilton responded with five unanswered runs to claim the win.
Down by three, Hamilton tied things the score 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth and then scored the go-ahead runs in the sixth.
In the fourth, singles by winning pitcher Shelby Savage and Taylor Hyland and a walk to Raimi Bryan loaded the bases with two out. Savage came home on a wild pitch with Hamilton''s first run of the game and then Caitlyn Atkins was hit by a pitch to reload the bases to set up Anna Imel''s two-run single which tied the game at 3-3.
The Lady Lions'' sixth-inning rally started innocently enough with a walk to Bryan. Atkins followed with a single to center and both runners moved up on Imel''s groundout. Katie Beth Dahlem then walked to load the bases and Lyndsey Williams followed with a shot down the third base line to score Bryan with what proved to be the winning run. Atkins added an insurance run on Savage''s groundout.
"Our backs were to the wall and we responded with a come-from-behind win," said Cobb. "Overall, we hit the ball when we needed to and we didn''t do a bad job defensively, either."