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Lady Demons are Ram-tough, again

L-E plays Northwestern for District 3 title

Posted: May 6, 2014 11:06 a.m.
Updated: May 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Fighting fire with fire, Lugoff-Elgin answered Hillcrest’s five-run top of the third inning by hanging up a four-spot in the bottom half of the frame before tacking on four more an inning later to advance to the final round of the 4A District 3 softball tournament with an 11-5 win over the visiting Rams on Monday night.
With the victory, the Lady Demons (21-4) will head to Rock Hill at 5 p.m. today to meet Northwestern for the district title. For L-E to advance to next week’s 4A Upper State championship tournament, James Marlow’s charges will need to beat the unbeaten Trojans twice. Northwestern topped L-E, 6-2, in Saturday’s second round pairing.
Getting to tonight’s contest was half the fun for L-E which found itself locked in a virtual slugfest against a Hillcrest team which it defeated, 3-1, in eight innings thanks to Sophie Holland’s two-run walk-off home run last Thursday.
Monday’s game never developed into the pitching and defensive duel of the tournament opener between the two sides. After having managed to collect seven hits in eight innings off Ram pitcher Darbi Horne last week, the hostesses cracked 16 in six at-bats on a night in which Horne was relieved by Chloe Moore in the middle of the third.
While Marlow was surprised at how many runners crossed the plate on this warm evening, L-E leftfielder Taylor Mullins thought her team was sitting on a big effort after Saturday’s setback.
“I was pretty confident going into this game considering that we played Northwestern and that we made contact against their good pitcher,” said the senior.
The Lady Demons made plenty of contact against Horne and Moore for 16 singles with four of those coming off the bat of freshman first baseman Baleigh Lunsford, who drove in a game-best five runs. Erin Blizzard, who went to distance on the mound, helped herself with a three-hit night while Dallas Guerrero had two hits and a pair of RBI with L-E’s top third of the batting order --- Holland, Delaney Guerrero and Taylor Rawl --- each having two hits with Rawl driving in a pair with a fourth-inning single.
“We were prepared for a one-run ballgame, either way … that was in our minds,” said Marlow. “We didn’t get to practice (Sunday) but we told the girls that it was going to be a very close game, once again. Hillcrest puts the ball in play a lot and they had a runner on base almost every inning the last time we played them and Erin (Blizzard) was pitching from behind in the count most of that game.
“We knew we had to make all the plays, eliminate getting the leadoff batter on and, get ahead in the count which (Blizzard) did a good job of executing today.”
The Lady Demons gave Blizzard a quick 1-0 lead heading into the second inning as Holland led off the home half of the first by drawing a walk and later scoring on Lunsford’s two-out single to center.
That advantage held up for another inning until the Rams struck for five runs and did that by collecting five of their six hits in that frame. The rally started with one out and included a pair of singles and an L-E error which loaded the bases for Kaitlin Evans whose two-run double gave the guests a 2-1 lead. Joshlyn Martin followed with another two-run double before a double to left off the bat of Horne upped the lead to 5-1 before Blizzard stopped the bleeding by getting a strikeout and an inning-ending line out to Holland at third.
Having scored six runs in their first two post-season contests, the Lady Demons responded to Hillcrest’s five runs with four of their own in the home portion of the third to even thing at five.
A leadoff walk to Holland was trailed by consecutive singles from Delaney Guerrero and Rawl to jam the bags with no outs. Lunsford then drove a two-run single to center, taking second on the error on the play. A wild pitch allowed Rawl to come in from third and when Martin, the HHS catcher, re-injured her leg on the play, Lunsford came in from second with the tying run. That led to the Rams changing their battery, including inserting Moore to take over the pitching chores.
Taking back the momentum from Hillcrest, Marlow said, was just what his girls needed. It was also a similar scenario to that from last Saturday
“I guess you can say that it was advantage that we got down like this against Northwestern on Saturday,” he said. “We came back and after the third inning, we had Northwestern, 2-0.
“Our girls knew they were plenty capable of overcoming that early obstacle. Thank God, it was early in the game and we still had five innings to play. If Hillcrest had a little more pitching, this could have been a little more dangerous.”
L-E put this one away with another four runs in the fourth off Moore. Dallas Guerrero kick-started things with a single to right which was followed by Holland’s long single to the fence in center. Playing small-ball, Delaney Guerrero bunted her way on for a single to fill the bases for Rawl, who drove a Moore offering to right to plate her sister and Holland to make it 7-5.
After Rawl stole second, Lunsford drove in runs eight and nine with a liner to the alley in left center.
Pitching with the lead, Blizzard ended her night by retiring the Rams in order over the final four frames, giving her 14 in a row to close things. She fanned seven Hillcrest batters.
But the Lady Demons were not done with the bats, yet.
Lunsford opened the sixth with a single before Haylee Rabon came on as a pinch-runner. With two gone and Rabon still on first, Blizzard sent a single to left before Savannah Grigsby was brought in to run for the L-E pitcher. Both runners came in when Dallas Guerrero lined a two-run single to right to up the ante to six runs at 11-5.
With this obstacle out of the way, the Lady Demons could turn their full attention to Northwestern and starting pitcher Kori Wancheck, who was staked to a 6-0 lead after the first two frames on Saturday against L-E. The visitors hope that having seen Wancheck once before will pay dividends today.
 “We have to be selective at the plate and make their pitcher work more than she did the last time we played them,” said Dallas Guerrero as to the changes her team needs to make. “We also have to play better defense.”
Marlow said the Lady Demons can ill afford to get in a big hole, again, while saying there may be some tweaks as to what his team will do today in Rock Hill.
“We’re going to have a whole different approach this time,” he said. “I think we may have to play more small ball; get our bunts down and do more bunt and running.
“(Wancheck) doesn’t give up a lot of hits and she throws a real ‘heavy’ ball with good speed down in the zone and then, she’ll come with the rise ball. She throws a lot of strikes and we have to put the ball in play more. Their first and third baseman made some critical errors on Saturday. If we hit the ball on the ground instead of in the air and limit our strikeouts, I think we’re going to do a whole lot better.
“We also have to avoid having that one inning where, like this game and the previous game, we give up a bunch of runs.”

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