April 15, 2012 12:01:47 AM
With just a week left until the start of the postseason, Caledonia High School softball coach Robin Elmore was eager for a crisp performance at the New Hope High School tournament.
Her club, facing a logjam of three district games in four days starting Monday, shut-out Columbus High 7-0 and Smithville 4-0 on Saturday.
At the heart of the effort was pitcher Cara Hopper, who pitched all 13 innings and picked up a pair of wins. Hopper was especially dominant against Smithville - undefeated in Class 1A Region 1 - with 13 strikeouts and three hits conceded.
Caledonia (13-8) needed every bit of Hopper's endurance and wildly effective drop-curveball, as the Lady Feds offense struggled to find gaps against Smithville pitcher Angel Guyton. Caledonia had a slim 1-0 lead heading into the fifth inning, but Hopper's nine strikeouts in that span kept Caledonia in the game.
"The (drop curve) was getting a lot of them to back off the plate," Hopper said. "I think they were scared I was going to hit them. And the (umpire) was calling it."
Smithville looked to break the game open in the fourth and fifth innings but stranded a combined five runners in both frames. Hopper had two runners on with no outs in the fourth but escaped after a strikeout, a sacrifice bunt and an infield fly-out. Hopper faced an even more perilous situation in the fifth after surrendering a pair of singles that helped load the bases with just one out. Hopper, again using the drop-curve, earned a strikeout to end the inning.
"The walk didn't help," Hopper said, "then they made a really good bunt. But I put it upon myself to not give them any more bases. It's not about striking them out; it's about making them hit routine ground balls and pop-outs. Everyone did their part behind me, too."
The Lady Feds' hitters found their groove in the bottom of the fifth, beginning with Lindsey Burton's one-out single to left. Burton scored after Laken Armstrong misplayed a ground ball at third, and New Hope took a 2-0 lead. Ashley Langford and Cate Sansing each followed with an RBI single.
"The girls rose to the challenge today," Elmore said. "If we can keep taking it one game at a time, we'll be alright."
Langford led Caledonia with two RBIs. She went 3 of 3 at the plate with two singles and a double.
Guyton took the loss for Smithville after pitching six innings and surrendering three earned runs on six hits. She struck out one and walked two..
Caledonia returns to the field Monday at Kosciusko. The regular season then closes with Leake Central Tuesday and Thursday.
Caledonia 7, Columbus 0
Caledonia wasn't as fluid with its play in the opening game of the day, but Elmore will gladly take the 7-0 win.
It was hard to fault the Lady Feds after a 9 a.m. start and a lack of quality pitches to hit. Columbus pitcher Porchia Brooks, though effective in spots, struggled with location. Despite her struggles, Caledonia mustered just one base through the first two innings.
Then, Caledonia woke up.
Gracie McClesky, Lindsey Burton and Cara Hopper opened the third inning with a single apiece. A passed ball plated a run for a 2-0 Caledonia lead, but the Lady Feds either flied out or grounded out in their next three at-bats.
An inning after Caledonia came to life, Columbus' wheels fell off. Just as Brooks began to hit her spots and force ground balls, her defense struggled to field and throw. Five Columbus errors led to Caledonia batting around and scoring four runs to put the game out of reach.
All of Caledonia's seven runs were unearned.
"Seven runs were scored off errors, so they've got to learn how to regroup it," said second-year Columbus coach Jamie Ellis-Melton. "We've got four district games starting Monday. Grenada and Tupelo are tough, and I hope we can pull those out. It's been a very up and down season. It's been very tough."
Ellis-Melton was disappointed with the result after beating West Point Friday night. But with a trio of players unavailable Saturday because of ACT testing, and two out with injuries, Ellis-Melton had to put the loss in perspective.
Also Saturday at New Hope, the host Lady Trojans defeated Northeast Lauderdale 5-0 and South Lamar 1-0.
D.J. Sanders threw a two-hitter against South Lamar, while Lauren Holifield picked up the win against Northeast Lauderdale.
Late Friday Night
n Caledonia 13, Starkville 0: At Caledonia, Hope Burton struck out seven and did not allow a hit in the Lady Confederates' non-region victory.
Cate Sansing and Sarah Beth Kinard had singles, Ashley Langford and Taylor Renth had doubles, and Cassie Obman had two singles.
Caledonia lost the junior varsity game 10-9. Alex Burns had a single, Landry Brown had a double, Nicole Kifer had two singles, and Gracie McCleskey had a single and a double.