Cedar Bluff rallies, holds off Spring Garden for Class 1A, Area 11 softball title

The Class 1A, Area 11 softball tournament champion Cedar Bluff Lady Tigers. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

SPRING GARDEN – The Cedar Bluff Lady Tigers started the softball season out at 0-5, but head coach Garrett Crane knew the type of schedule they were playing would pay dividends come postseason.

It already has.

In the Class 1A, Area 11 tournament championship game on Thursday, the Lady Tigers were tied at 5 with Spring Garden in the sixth inning. Haley Allen led off the inning with a double to center and Harlie Nelson broke the tie with a double to right.

Cedar Bluff relief pitcher Natalie Baty retired the Lady Panther side in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings, helping the Lady Tigers clinch their third straight area title by the final of 6-5.

Cedar Bluff (23-15) will face Area 9 runner-up Victory Christian on Tuesday morning in the East Regional at Albertville’s Sand Mountain Park. Spring Garden also advances to meet Area 9 winner Appalachian, also on Tuesday.

“It was really just a gotta-get-it-done kind of thing. There were no other options,” said Allen, who was 3-for-3 at the plate with a walk. “We had a lot of really great at-bats before that, but it was my job to get on base. I knew someone would come behind me and push me in.”

Nelson just happened to be the one to push Allen in.

“Honestly, I’m one who freaks out when I get to the plate, but whenever I’m not freaking out, I just calm down and hit the ball,” said Nelson, who was also 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a walk. “I was excited.”

“I think we just stayed calm the whole night and stayed within ourselves. That made all the difference,” Allen added.

“That was really big right there,” Crane said of Allen and Nelson’s back-to-back sixth inning doubles. “We talked about getting a timely hit, and that absolutely couldn’t be a better time for two of our senior leaders to step up.”

While the timely hit came through for Cedar Bluff late in the game, it didn’t come for Spring Garden.

“We left some runners on, but I was really proud of the girls and how they bounced back from (Tuesday) night after getting run-ruled (11-1),” Spring Garden coach Stephanie Steward said. “We gave them a little run for their money. They don’t quit that’s for sure. We’re just glad to make it to next week and have another opportunity to play another week of softball.”

Cedar Bluff struck for a run in the top of the first on Nelson’s RBI-single to left with the bases loaded and two outs, but Spring Garden countered for three runs in the bottom half against Lady Tiger starter Reece Patterson on a RBI-hit to center by Kayley Kirk followed by a RBI-double to center by Helena Ingram. Maggie Jarrett added another run on a ground out to short to give the Lady Panthers a 3-1 edge after one.

Cedar Bluff regained the lead with three runs in the top of the second by batting around against Lady Panther starting pitcher Lilly McCain. Mattie Payne smacked a RBI-double to center then Reece Patterson brought Payne home on a single to center. Allen later drove in a run with a single to center to give the Lady Tigers a 4-3 lead.

Cedar Bluff tacked on another run in the fourth on a Kylie Vadon single to center, but Spring Garden managed to tie the game at 5 in the bottom half by pushing two runs across against Baty – one on a double to center by Madi Ham and the other on Kirk’s single to right center.

That eventually set the stage for Allen and Nelson’s back-to-back doubles for the win.

Patterson joined Allen and Nelson with three hits and a walk for the Lady Tigers. She also picked up the win after working three innings. She gave up three runs on four hits with a walk and a pair of strikeouts.

Baty picked up the save after tossing four innings. She gave up two runs on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts.

McCain suffered the loss after going the distance. She walked five and struck out two batters.

Kirk led Spring Garden with three hits. Ingram, McCain, Jarrett, Maggie Reedy, Olivia Law and Ham had the other Lady Panther hits. Law also drew a walk.

“I told our girls before we left here (Tuesday), I said ‘Guys, it’s going to be a dogfight on Thursday.’ They’re an extremely scrappy group. Nothing was going to be handed to us,” Crane said. “Both sides battled back from some adversity and both teams battled to the end.”

Spring Garden clinched its spot in the East Regional with a 17-7 win over Jacksonville Christian in six innings. The Lady Panthers rallied from a 7-5 deficit in the third inning with seven runs in the top of the fourth, three more in the fifth and capped the scoring with a pair of runs in the sixth.

Ham went 3-for-4 with a three-run inside-the-park home run as part of the Lady Panthers’ seven-run fourth. Ingram and Kirk both had three hits. Ingram fell a home run short the cycle. Kirk had three doubles. Jarrett and Law both finished 2-for-3. Jarrett was also hit by a pitch and Law earned a walk. McCain had a RBI-single and was hit by a pitch. Reedy had a two-run single in the fourth.

Avery Steward picked up the win after working all six innings. She scattered 10 hits, three walks and two strikeouts.

Jacksonville Christian scored all seven of its runs in the bottom of the second after sending 12 batters to the plate. Erin Prater had three hits in the game to lead the Thunder.

“They’re a really good team. They’re well-coached and they showed up ready to play,” Steward said. “They gave us some things that obviously we need to work on, but our girls were tough. When you know it’s win or go home, your emotions kind of get high. It makes you play a little tense, but that’s to be expected. That was a good learning opportunity for us. If down the road we get in the losers bracket, that’s something we can fall back on.”

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