Lady Cats win game one thriller over Newton Co.
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Game 2 set for Monday at Decatur
By RUSSELL TURNER – Herald Editor
Greene County and Newton County softball fans had to wait an extra day to see their teams battle in Round 3 of the MHSAA 4A Playoffs after inclement weather came into play on Friday. The wait proved well worth it as Saturday’s matchup between the Wildcats and the Cougars lived up to the hype with GCHS claiming a 4-3 extra-inning win at home to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
Lilly Rau’s flare into short left field bounced off the glove of one of three Newton County defenders that had converged on the play, allowing fellow freshman Kambrie Lawrence to score from third for the winning run. Rau came to the plate with two outs after a sacrifice bunt by senior Breeze Jordan had put the go-ahead run at third base for the Lady Cats and Newton County had intentionally walked Lawrence and sophomore Erin Meadows to load the bases. The move by the Cougars worked as planned as a hard hit ground ball by eighth grader Addy Tungett resulted in a fielder’s choice out at the plate for out number two. Rau fell in a quick 0-2 hole after a swinging strike and a foul ball, but got just enough the third pitch she saw to create a difficult play that resulted in one of the few the sure-handed visitors were unable to make.
“It was just a tough win against a really good team,” GCHS Head Coach Kyle Long said. “We knew it would be a close game and we told the team it would come down to one play or one hit and it did.”
“I am just so proud of them for believing in each other and finding a way to win.”
While the game did come down to one final play, there were a lot of other big ones on both sides throughout the 8-inning affair. Many of them came from within the pitching circle where senior Taylor Brewer showed a ton of toughness, battling through a game where she wasn’t at her sharpest.
Brewer struggled with her control at times, particularly early. She walked four Cougars in the game, but after giving up four hits and a run in the first two innings, she settled in, giving up just three more hits the rest of the way. Brewer didn’t record a single strike-out, but made some huge pitches in key moments down the stretch. Two of the biggest came in the eighth inning. Per playoff rules, the visitors started the inning with a runner at second base and quickly bunted her over to third. But, Brewer got easy pop fly outs from each of the next two batters to strand the runner and give her team a chance to win it in the bottom of the inning.
“Taylor didn’t have her best stuff like she did the last 3-or-4 outings,” Long said. “But, she battled through that and that is the sign of a great pitcher.”
“You won’t always have your best stuff, but can you fight through and help your team win? Taylor did just that and got out of trouble time and time again.”
GCHS started the game on a high note. After keeping the high-powered Cougars off the board in the top of the first, freshman Zamiah Knight blistered a 1-1 pitch over the left fielder’s head for a standup double. Her classmate Shanna Johnson did her role with a ground ball to the left side of the infield to push Knight to third. Brewer then stepped to the plate and helped her cause with a hard-hit ball to shortstop to get the RBI.
Newton County answered with three singles and a sacrifice bunt to push across a run in the top of the second. A nice play by Jordan at third and a good pitch by Brewer to induce a pop up to left field prevented a big inning and kept the game knotted at one apiece.
A leadoff double and a sacrifice fly gave the visitors the lead in the top of the third, but GCHS answered with three hits and two runs in the bottom of the fourth to go back on top 3-2. A single by Tungett drove in Lawrence who had led off the inning with a hit. Senior C.C. Spiers singled two batters later to drive in Meadows.
Newton County tied it back up at three each in the top of the sixth. A popup in foul territory in short right field was good for the second out of the inning, but allowed the base runner to tag up and score from third.
Both teams went down in order in the seventh, leading to extra innings. And, in a back-forth-game where both teams had made solid plays, it felt fitting that Rau was the one who finally caught the break that decided the outcome.
“Lily has been huge for us,” Long said. “Everybody forgets she’s a freshman.”
“From the runner she threw out for a big out in the first, to putting it in play with two strikes to make the game-winning play happen, is just how she has battled all year for us. I am so proud of her and excited for her future in our program.”
With a game one win, GCHS is now one more win away from a trip to the South State Championship round. But, Long and his team know there is no time to relax. Game two of the series is set for Monday at 6 p.m. in Decatur and the 24-4 Cougars are not going to go down without a fight.
“They are a really good team with a proud tradition,” Long added. “They will give us their best shot on Monday.”
“We will have to play really well again to win it, but I have confidence in our kids that we will.”