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Hartsville sweeps Lady Demons to claim 4A Lower State crown

Posted: May 15, 2017 3:24 p.m.
Updated: May 16, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

L-E’S SAVANNAH GRIGSBY LOOKS toward an umpire for an interference call which did not come her way after she collided with Hartsville shortstop Jessica McWhorter (12), who got the worst of things as a result of the collision, in third inning action from Friday’s first game of the 4A Lower State championship.

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Standing in a nearly deserted outfield while, to his left, Hartsville players and coaches were still snapping photos, Lugoff-Elgin head softball coach James Marlow was at a loss for words.

With his team on the cusp of earning the school’s first berth in a state championship series in 27 years, Marlow watched in near shock as the visiting Lady Red Foxes capped an improbable run to the 4A Lower State championship with an even more improbable doubleheader sweep of the Lady Demons on their home field.

After scoring four times in the top of the eighth and then hanging on for dear life in the bottom half of the inning, HHS forced a second and deciding game with a 6-4 victory. In the nightcap, buoyed by the surge of momentum from taking game one, the guests used a seven-run top of the second to jump to a 9-0 lead and held on for the 10-5 win on a cool and windy night which ended four-plus hours after the first pitch of the evening had been thrown.

Marlow said he never could have imagined his team losing twice at home on Friday, especially after his girls blanked their Region 6 colleagues, 6-0, in Monday’s winners’ bracket contest in Hartsville. The Lady Red Foxes then staved off elimination by edging Berkeley, 7-5, two nights later to earn a trip to the West Wateree and having to defeat the hostesses twice in order to secure a spot alongside Union County in the 4A state championship series which opened last night.

“Man … I don’t even know what to say about that to be honest with you,” he said while choosing his words deliberately and carefully.

“I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t think it could happen. Our girls didn’t think it could happen. We didn’t have the mindset that this would be the way things would turn out. We made a couple boo-boos; we misplayed a couple balls and that girl in center (HHS centerfielder Myra McDonald) keeps a home run in the ballpark which probably could have won the game (for L-E), 3-2.

“You just have to tip your hat to them. They made the plays and we didn’t.”

With L-E leading, 2-1, with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the fifth, McDonald brought back what looked to be a Bailey Douglas home run into the field of play. McDonald, at first, had the ball in her glove but it came out as she crashed back to the ground as Douglas wound up on second with a double. She would be left hanging there as Taylor Watford got the third out on a fly ball to shortstop Jessica McWhorter.

Hartsville evened things at two by pushing across a run in the seventh as McDonald, who got on with a one-out single, scored on McKinsey Bizell’s ground out.

With things still knotted at two after seven innings, the Lady Red Foxes staged a four-run eighth with all the damage coming with two outs. Sydney McInnis got aboard on a fielders’ choice. Taylor Lawhon followed with a single to center and a wild pitch advanced the pair into scoring position for Bizzell, whose liner through the box plated both runners. Blaze MacArthur followed by sending a two-run blast out to left center, further hushing the home crowd as the guests went on top, 6-2.

There was plenty of suspense left, however, as Savannah Grigsby opened the home portion of the eighth with her fourth hit in as many at-bats. L-E pitcher Douglas followed by sending a single to left. Kelly Graham then hit a ground ball fielded by Watford, who threw to third to try and get Grigsby. At first, Grigsby was ruled out before a meeting with the third base and home plate umpire who overruled the call, saying that McGinnis bobbled the throw as L-E had the bags juiced with no outs. There was little to no argument from the HHS bench following the changed fall.

A passed ball allowed Grigsby to score the third run while advancing Douglas and pinch-runner Emma Vinson into scoring position. Douglas made it 6-4, scoring on a wild pitch with one gone. A Sophie Holland walk put runners on the corners only for Watford to right the ship and get a comebacker and a fly ball to McDonald in center to force a second game.

HHS got to Douglas for a run in the second with McGinnis smacking a triple and scoring on Lawhon’s ground out.

L-E countered with a run in its half of the second which opened with Holland lining a double to left center and scoring from second on an error following a sacrifice bunt from her younger sister, Gracie Holland. When the throw to try and get Sophie Holland at third hit the top of the L-E dugout, the runner was awarded home.

An inning later, the Lady Demons added a second run with Grigsby cracking a leadoff single to right and being sacrificed to second and third on successive bunts. Kaley Goerlich then put the hostesses on top, 2-1, with a two-out single through the box.

L-E was out-hit in the opener, 11-6. More than that, Marlow said that after having beaten Hartsville twice in three meetings before this game, his team was a bit shell-shocked in being extended to a second game on Friday.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The funny part is, they’ve hit both these girls (HHS game one starter Watford and second game starter Liz Stroud) in the last three ballgames. Then, to come into tonight and pop balls up and not get bunts down …

“We’re a power team, too. With the wind blowing in, you get some balls being hung up a little bit.”

Both teams sent new pitchers to the mound for the evening’s finale with L-E freshman Gracie Holland going up against Stroud, a junior, who came on in relief and allowed two runs in two innings of work when the two sides met four nights earlier.

Stroud received a quick two-run cushion as Cassi Ringer opened the contest with a bloop double to shallow left. McWhorter then went yard to left center and two batters in, the Lady Demons found themselves in a two-run hole.

That was nothing compared to the second after the Lady Demons went down without a whisper in the first.

The first five HHS batters in the second all got on base and each scored a run in a nine-run frame in which the visitors sent 11 players to the plate while collecting six hits. The heavy lifting was done, in part, by McWhorter who rapped a two-run single to center and Lawhon whose single drove in runs seven and eight before MacArthur, who opened the inning with a single to left made it 9-0 when she doubled home a run.

At this stage of the game, L-E was just trying to hang on rather than get closed out early by the 10-run rule.

The Lady Demon comeback started with a three-run second with Goerlich getting on via a leadoff, two-base error. Sophie Holland then walked before Kellee Branham’s sharp single to left loaded the bases with no outs. Hannah Tucker’s single to left drove in Goerlich with the first run while Erica Rawl knocked in runs two and three with a single to left. A line out and having a player doubled up at second on a fly ball stunted the rally at three.

With his team on the board, Marlow went to Douglas to come on to pitch in the third. The right-hander allowed one run in her first inning of relief work but that would be it as the Hartsville bats went silent from that point.

Marlow said that with all-state pitcher Baleigh Lunsford out for the season with an injury and having to put Douglas, a starting outfielder on the spot to become the team’s ace, he made plans for Gracie Holland to start a second game if it came down to that. He said the right-hander deserved a better fate than she received.

“I think we made four errors in two in nings behind her; that’s not the pitcher’s fault,” he said. “She gave up a few hits but when you’re making a pitcher have to get a fourth and a fifth out in an inning, that’s not Gracie’s fault.

“She got in there and she fought. I hate that I even had to pull her. What an experience it should have been for her to get in there and show out.”

L-E chipped away at the seven-run deficit, scoring a run in the fourth as Tucker led off with a single to left and scored on Grigsby’s two-run infield single. An inning later, the Lady Demons had a golden opportunity to close the gap but only came away with a run.

Goerlich got on with a fielders’ choice in the home half of the fifth. Stroud then issued three consecutive walks to, in order, Sophie Holland, Branham and then Tucker, whose free pass allowed Goerlich to come across while spelling the end of the night for Stroud as Watford returned to the mound with the bags jammed with one out.

Watford got out of the mess with a ground ball which forced courtesy runner Vinson at the plate for the second out before getting a comebacker to close the inning with the guests leading, 10-5.

The Lady Demons had two more chances to get to Watford only to leave runners dangling on first and second in the sixth and then, on second and third in the seventh.

In the nightcap, L-E collected 11 hits with Douglas and Tucker having two each. But the home side also left 11 runners on the base paths while committing an uncharacteristic four errors in the field.

The miscues could not have come at a worse time for the Lady Demons who finished their season with a 20-10 record while splitting tying Hartsville and Darlington atop Region 6-4A with 6-2 records in league play.

“The things which we had typically done well through this stretch, we did not do tonight,” Marlow said in a reserved tone.

“At the end of the day, we just did not get it done, fielding-wise, hitting with runners in scoring position … we didn’t play the type of ball that got us where we are.”



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