By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
SPRING GARDEN – There were pink bows lining the fences, along with a sign of appreciation in left field for Spring Garden softball coach Ann Welsh on Thursday.
Her breast cancer chemo treatments concluded this week. She said she still has some radiation to go, but to use her words, “the worst part is over.”
Welsh’s fight and her presence in the Lady Panther dugout seemed to inspire Spring Garden against area rival and fourth-ranked Cedar Bluff.
The Lady Panthers took an early one-run advantage on a triple to left by pitcher Avery Steward before the Lady Tigers rallied for three in the top of the seventh. The big blow was a two-run shot to center by Cedar Bluff shortstop Mattie Payne.
Spring Garden then battled back for a pair of runs on a triple to right by shortstop Helena Ingram to tie the game and force extra innings.
Then, in the bottom of the 10th, the Lady Panthers loaded the bases with one out to bring catcher Maggie Jarrett to the plate. Jarrett belted a hit to left field to score Kayley Kirk from third with the winning run in Spring Garden’s 4-3 marathon win.
“There were a few butterflies (at the plate in that situation), but (Spring Garden assistant coach) Mrs. (Stephanie) Steward just said see the ball and hit the ball, get a base hit, anything to score a run and win. Just focus on making contact. I just felt it,” said Jarrett, who finished 2-for-4 at the plate.
Coach Steward said this group of Lady Panthers (2-3) “knows how to dig deep.”
“We’re majority 10th graders, but this group has played together a lot. They have lots of fight. They don’t get rattled. They just keep playing,” Coach Steward said.
“Two weeks ago, they were playing in the state championship game (in basketball). Half of our starters were there on the basketball court. After Friday night (a 9-2 loss in the county tournament) they were a little discouraged. I told them I don’t know what we should’ve expected with just three practices, but they don’t have much quit in them. I’m just proud of them.”
Welsh is proud of them as well.
“We’ve got a different way to play this year,” she said. “We’ve got to stand behind our pitchers and be bigger on defense than we have in the past. Every batter is a chance to make a play. It’s not going to be a bunch of strikeouts, and I think they’re buying into that. I think they’ll continue to get better.”
Cedar Bluff coach Garrett Crane expected a competitive game from Spring Garden, and the Lady Tigers (6-10) got exactly that.
“I told our girls not to expect the same thing from the last time we played them (in the county tournament). That’s going to be a different ball team and they’re going to be hungry. Unfortunately tonight I don’t think we matched them,” Crane said.
Steward, who tossed all 10 innings, earned the win in the circle. She allowed three runs (all in the seventh inning) on eight hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.
Steward was also 3-for-4 at the plate with a triple and an intentional walk.
“We’re most definitely playing for something bigger than ourselves,” Steward said, referring to Welsh. “We just want to win for her.
“This was really good for our defense. We’ve been struggling, making errors and stuff, but this was the first game I felt like we were really all together.”
Steward tripled to left in her first-inning at-bat off Cedar Bluff starter Reece Patterson. She scored on Kirk’s single to left.
It remained a 1-0 game until the Lady Tigers rallied in the top of the seventh with two outs. Nine-hole hitter Kylie Vadon singled to left and later scored Cedar Bluff’s first run on a wild pitch. Leadoff batter Natalie Baty singled to right to bring Payne to the plate. Payne blasted a two-run shot to center to give the Lady Tigers a 3-1 advantage.
But Spring Garden didn’t lay down.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Steward singled to center. Patterson then retired second baseman Madi Ham on a pop out to first. Kirk then walked to bring Ingram to the plate.
Ingram sent a shot to right for a two-run triple to tie the game at 3 with two outs. She attempted to score the winning run on wild pitch, but was tagged out at the plate by catcher Harlie Nelson to send the game into extra innings.
It remained tied until the bottom of the 10th. With one out, Patterson gave up back-to-back singles to center off the bats of Kirk and Ingram.
Crane opted to insert Baty in to relieve Patterson in the circle. The Lady Tigers intentionally walked Layla Ingram to load the bases, setting up a force play at each base, but Jarrett made them pay with her walk-off single to left.
Kirk went 2-for-4 with a walk. Helena Ingram was 3-for-5.
Payne and Patterson both had a pair of hits for Cedar Bluff. Patterson was the tough-luck loser. She gave up all four Lady Panther runs on 10 hits with three walks and 13 strikeouts.
“For 10 innings, she laid her heart out there,” Crane said of Patterson. “Everything she had she put it out there and absolutely shoved it. Her performance in the circle was gutsy. Unfortunately we just didn’t give her enough help there at the plate.”