Softball rallies with 6-run 7th

Published 9:00 am Thursday, May 26, 2016

KANNAPOLIS – When the bottom of the sixth inning ended, Davie softball fans were pretty much saying: “That’s it. That’s too much to overcome. It was a good year.”

The War Eagles had nothing going for them, trailing host A.L. Brown 7-3 in the third round of the 4-A playoffs at Kannapolis Middle School on May 17. That felt like an even larger deficit with Catawba signee Kaylee Cook pitching for the Wonders.

When the War Eagles began rallying in the top of the seventh, this thought flashed through their minds: “Oh, my goodness.” They put together six straight hits, scored six runs and stole a 9-7 victory that will be replayed approximately forever.

“We knew we had it in us,” Davie coach Dawn Lowery said  amid hugging, screaming and celebrating players and fans. “I told the girls: ‘If you don’t go out there and win it for the coaches or for your best friend, go out there and win it for the seniors.’ It really sparked them. We came out with a purpose and the purpose was to put the ball in play, get some hits and scratch out some runs. That’s what we did and I’m so proud of them.”

The fifth-seeded Wonders, who went 12-0 in the Mecka Conference, completed the greatest season in school history at 23-4. No. 20 Davie improved to 18-9.

Thanks to consecutive seventh-inning hits from Bridgett Tierney, Anna Devereaux, Sierra Ferguson, Makenzie Smith, Jessie Beck and Katelyn Webb, Davie reached the quarterfinals for the fifth time in its 20-year history of fastpitch, joining teams from 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2010.

“I’ve never been apart of something like that,” Lowery said after guiding Davie to 18 wins for the second time in two years as coach. “As a fairly new coach, I’m just so excited.”

Ace pitcher Olivia Boger had been tremendous in the postseason, going 2-0 with 11 scoreless innings with four hits allowed to run her season record to 12-4. But the junior’s momentum ended abruptly. In the bottom of the first, Brown’s first four batters rapped hits and a fifth hit followed as the Wonders bolted to a 3-0 lead.

Lowery pulled Boger after the first and handed the ball to Julie Gough, who earned the win by going the final six innings.

“Olivia is a great pitcher,” Lowery said. “We took her out early not because she couldn’t have come back from it. We just thought we needed a change. We didn’t want it to get any deeper than 3-0. At this level of the playoffs, you can’t get down five or six runs.”

Gough did an admirable job in her first outing in four games. Her experience paid off. It was her 19th appearance of the season, and the senior came in with 190 career innings on varsity and 20 wins. She improved to 6-5.

“Julie’s been in situations like this,” Lowery said. “And we were confident she could get some work down. We told Olivia she wasn’t done, but Julie did her job and we’re proud of her.”

In the second, the left fielder robbed Smith with a shoestring catch. Beck walked and Webb singled, but Davie stranded two runners.

Shortstop K’lea Parks turned a line drive into a double play in the Brown second, and Gough escaped trouble in the third. With runners at second and third and no outs, third baseman Hannah Woody held the lead runner and got the first out. Then Parks, Ferguson and Webb turned a 6-3-2 double play to keep the score 3-0.

“That’s the way it’s gone for us this postseason,” Lowery said. “We’ve had double plays in key situations that have really changed the momentum or saved us from getting too far behind. With the exception of the first inning, the defense was on point. We’ve worked on it a lot in practice. Lots of reps and hitting the balls at them hard. If you can field these balls, you can field any of the balls that are hit to you (in a game).”

Davie climbed back within 3-2 in the fourth. Smith singled, Beck walked and both advanced on a wild pitch. Parks’ ground out plated one and Woody’s single to center scored another.

But Brown again had a vice grip on the game when it scored three fifth-inning runs on three hits, a walk and a wild pitch.

Davie got one of those runs back in the sixth. Beck blistered one over a leaping second baseman. Webb mashed one off the second baseman’s glove. When Parks got an infield hit, an overthrow at first allowed a run that cut the deficit to 6-3. But Davie left two runs out there by striking out and flying out.

Brown added an insurance run in the sixth. With a runner at third and two outs, Kaitlin Moore doubled to left-center. Moore was the ringmaster for Brown, going 4 for 4 with three doubles and three RBIs. She barely missed a homer with a first-inning double off the fence in left-center. She doubled over the right fielder’s head in the third. She singled sharply in the fifth.

“She destroyed the ball,” Brown coach Scott Rodgers told the Salisbury Post.

Down 7-3, the War Eagles basically had 16 in a hand of blackjack. Brown could smell a 19th straight win. It hadn’t lost since March 15.

“We were in great position,” Rodgers said. “But Davie has one heck of a team, and we knew we were going to have to fight all night.”

The War Eagles had seven hits through six innings against Cook, the future Catawba pitcher. But they opened the seventh with six straight hits, starting with Tierney’s bullet off the second baseman’s glove. That was her 42nd hit, setting the single-season record that Morgan Hendrix had from 2014. The next batter, Devereaux, singled between short and third. Then Ferguson unleashed a long drive to third, the single cutting it to 7-4. Then Smith drove a single up the middle to make it 7-5. Then Beck served a soft single to right, past a diving second baseman.

“I just watched it unfold hit after hit, and then when I saw the scoreboard changing and us getting a little bit closer, I knew we had it,” Lowery said.

With the score 7-6, a wild pitch put runners at second and third. Webb sent a rocket up the middle, tying it at 7, putting runners at the corners and chasing Cook, who was replaced by Ashlynn Stokes. The reliever nearly got out of it, getting a strikeout and a popup. But a 1-2 pitch to McKenzie Barneycastle was in the dirt, the wild pitch bringing in Beck for an 8-7 Davie lead and moving courtesy-runner Sydney Wyatt to second. Barneycastle hit a comebacker, but her speed forced a hurried throw in the dirt. It got under the first baseman and Wyatt raced home for the 9-7 lead.

“The girls were pumped in the dugout,” Lowery said. “They had each other’s backs. Our fans were great. They’ve been great this whole postseason. It was just fun to watch.”

Parks, playing third base in the late innings, put Brown to bed in the bottom of the seventh, throwing two runners out at first and catching a popup as Brown brought the tying run to the plate. Brown outhit Davie 14-13, but Davie found a way, winning one for the archives.

“We put the ball in play and made them make plays,” Lowery said. “They made some errors and it worked out for us in the long run.”

Webb (3-4) had three hits, while Smith (2-4) and Beck (2-2, three runs, two walks) had two each.