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Magic ends for New Hope softball

 

Adam Minichino

 

Small ball helped the Cleveland High School fast-pitch softball team earn the right Monday night to keep its season alive. 

 

Lindsey Mullins’ bases-loaded walk tied the game in the top of the seventh inning, and Cleveland used three fielder’s choices to tack on three insurance runs to rally for a 5-2 victory against New Hope in game three of the Class 4A third-round playoffs at Lady Trojan Field. 

 

Cleveland, which eliminated New Hope last year en route to the Class 4A fast-pitch state title, will face Neshoba Central for the North Half state title later this week. 

 

“We put pressure on the defense in a tight situation like that and things just went our way tonight,” Cleveland coach David Price said. “To win these kind of games you not only have to be good but you also have to be lucky. I believe both of these teams are very good, and I believe a little bit of luck went out way in the seventh inning.” 

 

New Hope (23-4), which beat Cleveland en route to the 2008 Class 4A slow-pitch state title, rallied from an 8-1 deficit to win game two 12-9. 

 

The Lady Trojans scored both of their runs in game three on wild pitches. The appeared to have all of the momentum entering the final inning, particularly after reliever D.J. Sanders, a seventh-grader, replaced eight-grader Lauren Holifield in the sixth. Holifield had walked the first two in the inning, but Sanders, who came on in relief to win game two, recorded three outs in a row to snuff out the rally. 

 

New Hope wasn’t as fortunate in the seventh inning of game three. 

 

Sanders hit leadoff hitter Mari Micci Bramuchi and Lauren Kendall and Kendall Sizemore followed with hits. Sizemore’s came on a textbook small ball play as she punched the ball to second base to capitalize on the opening left by New Hope’s rotating defense to cover against a bunt. 

 

“We just really stepped up and did the job,” Sizemore said. “We got our bunts down when we needed to and we got the hits when we needed to. We did a good job of getting those small hits and making them play defense.” 

 

Cleveland then went to its small-ball attack, which uses bunts to get runners and the defense moving.  

 

With the bases still loaded after Mullins’ walk, Katie Portner grounded to shortstop Kelli Petty, who was playing in with the rest of the infield. Petty couldn’t turn and get to second base fast enough to beat the runner, which allowed the go-ahead run to score. 

 

After a strikeout, Paige Livingston and Min Kandies followed with bunts that New Hope fielded but held, allowing two more runs to score. 

 

Price admitted his team hit the ball so well against Holifield in game one that he took his mind off using a small-ball attack. He said his players went cold at the plate, which allowed New Hope to regain the momentum.  

 

New Hope coach Tabitha Beard said Cleveland’s experience (seven seniors) paid off in the seventh, especially when it came to executing in small-ball situations. 

 

“We didn’t do some things we have been taught to do and that we do every day, and, ultimately, it hurt,” Beard said. “They’re an older ballclub and we’re young, and sometimes younger girls make mistakes. That’s all there is to it.”Beard said Cleveland’s ability to use small ball, like it did in the first inning of game one when it built a 4-0 lead, forced New Hope to have to make quicker decisions. Even though the Lady Trojans practice those situations daily, they weren’t able to throw the ball to the right base fast enough to get outs in several key instances. 

 

“Coach Price knew they probably weren’t going to be real successful at the plate against D.J.,” Beard said. “They laid down the bunt and did what they had to do. He did a great job coaching, and we didn’t do a great job handling it.” 

 

New Hope went down in order in the bottom half of the seventh inning. Kendall limited New Hope to four singles in game three. She hit one, struck out one, and walked none. 

 

“Their pitcher is good,” Beard said. “She stepped up.” 

 

Price said there was no doubt Kendall would start game three. He said his goal was to keep her as fresh as possible for game three. 

 

“I kind of put those two passed balls on my catcher as much as I do on my pitcher,” Price said. “Those balls can’t go to the backstop. They cost us and hurt us badly.” 

 

Kendall, a senior pitcher who opted not to talk after the game, regrouped after relieving starter Emily Hatcher in game two.  

 

She didn’t last long. She was forced to leave the game after Cleveland inadvertently had too many official visits to the mound. 

 

Kendall’s departure might have been costly. New Hope erupted for five runs in the inning thanks in part to three errors (Cleveland had five in the game) to take a 10-8. 

 

Sanders (two hits, four RBIs) had a two-run single and Anna Hodson (three hits, three RBIs) had an RBI single in the rally. 

 

New Hope rallied despite having five baserunning mistakes, including four that erased runners in scoring position. 

 

Sanders came through in the sixth in the circle. She walked her first batter on four pitches and then struck out Livingston with the bases loaded on a pitch out of the strike zone to preserve a 10-9 lead  

 

Kelli Petty also had two singles, and Haley Tutor had a single and a double. 

 

The loss was the final game for seniors Victoria Culpepper, Kristen Harvey, and DeShuni Sanders playing for New Hope. All three are expected to play in a senior All-Star Game after the high school season is completed. 

 

Beard said those three players epitomized the team’s fighting spirit that always kept it in a game. 

 

“These girls have a lot of heart, and they always have,” Beard said of her team. “They don’t know the meaning of the word die. They are going to keep on fighting and scrapping. It paid off in the first game. I would have liked some off those hits in the second game, but it didn’t happen.” 

 

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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