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Tri-Central falls to Cowan in softball sectional championship

By MICHELLE GARMON

DALEVILLE — Cowan executed the short game well in Saturday’s championship game of the Class A Daleville Sectional. As a result, the 16th-ranked Blackhawks defeated Tri-Central 8-2 and earned a trip to Tuesday’s one-game regional.

“I am really proud of how we played,” Tri-Central coach Lindsey Sorensen said. “This team grew so much throughout the season, and it showed today. We came to play, and we played well for six solid innings. Unfortunately, we took the loss but like I’ve always told the girls, we never lose, we either win or we learn. I think today we learned a lot, but the one thing I hope we learned the most is to believe that we can.”

Aryonna Bynum’s one-out triple and a sacrifice fly by Cowan pitcher Tatum Rickert gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Cowan tacked on a run in the top of the third. Kaylee Belcher doubled, and Savannah Crabtree followed with a bunt. TC attempted to make the play at third but not in time and the Blackhawks had runners at the corners with no outs.

Crabtree appeared to be thrown out attempting to steal second as TC shortstop Gracie Grimes tagged applied the tag to the thigh of Crabtree – who never attempted to slide – a step before she reached the bag, however, the base umpire called her safe. Knowing she had been tagged and believing herself out, Crabtree turned and began walking back toward first and the dugout. Grimes then threw the ball to the second baseman, unsure exactly what was happening, hesitated a split second, made the tag and bobbled the ball as she transferred it to her throwing hand as Belcher broke for home Belcher scored on the play to make it 2-0. Crabtree was called out after having been tagged by the second baseman and returning to the dugout.

The Blackhawks went utilized their short game in the top of the fourth. The leadoff hitter was hit by a pitch and raced all the way to third on Josie Byrd bunt that turned into a base hit as the Trojans were late to cover first on the defensive rotation and left third uncovered. Byrd ended up at second. Back-to-back sacrifice RBI bunts by Rickert and Miranda Bowling extended Cowan’s lead to 4-0.

Bowling’s RBI single in the top of the fifth upped the lead to 5-0.

Tri-Central finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth inning after leaving a runner stranded in the previous three innings.

Maiya Owen got the Trojans’ first hit with a one-out single in the bottom of the second inning. She was bunted to third but left stranded. Layla Keith drew a one-out walk in the third inning, but the next two batters popped up to the catcher and right fielder to end the inning. Adeline Taylor hit a one-out single in the fourth, but Rickert struck out the next two TC batters.

In the fifth, Addyson Mackey reached on an error. Alexus Mackey followed and appeared to be hit by a pitch just above the right wrist and even ran down to first, where she showed the first base coach where she was hit. The home plate umpire, however, ruled it a dead ball strike, and had Alexus Mackey come back to the plate. She ended up striking out. The TC designated player sported a nice big red mark that was starting to bruise by the time the game was over.

The Trojans, however, remained focused at the plate and Keith drew a walk. Madison Neff then laid down a perfect bunt single to load the bases with just the one out. Grimes was then hit in the elbow by a pitch, scoring Addyson Mackey. Rickert struck out the next batter for the second out, but the bases remained loaded. Taylor stepped to the plate and hit an RBI single to left to score Keith and cut the lead to 5-2. Owen grounded out to end the inning.

The Trojans did not have another base runner for the game as Rickert retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh innings.

Cowan, meanwhile, scored its final three runs in the top of the seventh on two base hits, a squeeze bunt and two Trojan errors.

Autumn Hurt pitched the entire game for TC, allowing eight runs – five earned – on six hits. She walked four and hit a batter while striking out one.

Cowan’s Rickert, meanwhile, gave up two runs and four hits. She struck out seven, walked two and (officially) hit one batter. Taylor had two of the four hits allowed and drove in a run. Owen and Neff had TC’s other two hits, while Grimes recorded the Trojans’ other RBI.

“We are young,” Sorensen said. “We lose one girl next year. We told the girls the offseason starts tomorrow. If they want to be competitive and pick up where we left off, they have to put in some offseason work.

“Looking back from where we started in early April to where we finished, we battled. We ended our season playing good softball, that’s all I can ask for. Our regular season schedule is tough, but it challenges us and makes us better.”

Owen is Tri-Central’s only senior.