Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Decatur third baseman Jennifer Lawrence fields a throw as Etowah’s Ashley Hill slides into the bag.
Etowah edges young Decatur
By Mark Edwards
Decatur High lost its Class 5A softball playoff series at home Saturday, but it’s unclear who took the postgame water-balloon battle.
Minutes after the Lady Red Raiders fell in the second round of sub-state play to visiting Etowah — one step short of the state tournament in Montgomery — the players smiled and laughed as they chased each other around their softball complex, throwing water balloons at any open target.
Sure, there was heartbreak after a tough day on the field, where Decatur won the opener 4-0 but then fell 8-2 and 4-2 to lose the best-of-three series. But first-year head coach Ashley Mueller and her young squad, which features only two seniors, six juniors, two sophomores and three eighth-graders, had too much go right this year and too much potential for next season to mope Saturday.
“We’re disappointed that we’re not heading to Montgomery,” Mueller said. “But we’ve improved by leaps and bounds.”
After posting a 15-30 record last year, Decatur finished this season at 43-21. Mueller became so caught up in the playoff chase that it wasn’t until recently that she realized her team had set a school record.
Mueller said Decatur’s 43 wins broke the old record of 40 set by the 2003 team.
Unfortunately for the Lady Red Raiders, they ran into a team that played almost flawlessly Saturday.
In the field, Etowah (36-14) made as many errors as it did triple plays — one of each. The one error came in the last inning of the second game and didn’t affect the outcome.
That type of fielding backed the pitching of seventh-grader Somer Wright, who worked every inning of all three games. In all, she pitched 20 innings, struck out 10 and walked only one.
In other words, for Decatur to score runs, it had to hit it where Etowah wasn’t — and that didn’t happen often.
“Our defense has been tremendous this year,” Etowah coach Teri Owens said. “They’ve got a pitcher they love to play behind, and that’s made them even better.”
The Decatur offense was paced by sophomore Whitney Fletcher (5-for-8, four runs, three doubles), junior Jennifer Lawrence (3-for-9, one triple), junior Lindsey Hawkins (3-for-8, two doubles, one triple, four RBIs) and sophomore Mollie Russell (4-for-9).
In the opening game, Decatur scored once in the first inning when Hawkins’ sacrifice fly brought home Fletcher, who had reached on a double. The Lady Red Raiders then added three runs in the third inning when four straight batters got hits. Fletcher doubled, then scored on a triple by Lawrence, who scored on a triple by Hawkins, who scored on a single by Jelisa Thompson.
That was more than enough offense for Russell, who pitched a two-hit shutout for the Lady Raiders and struck out 12.
But in the second game, Decatur committed four errors on defense and struggled to score against Wright on offense.
The Lady Raiders mounted a brief rally in the fifth inning when they trailed 8-1. Paris Owens and Abi Lott each singled with no outs. That brought Scarlett Wright to the plate with the top of the order waiting behind her.
Wright lined a rocket toward second base that appeared headed to the outfield for a hit.
But Etowah shortstop Kandace Christopher moved over and grabbed it out of the air for an out. Christopher then stepped on second base to catch Owens off the bag for an out. Then she threw to first base to catch Lott off the bag for the third out, which completed a triple play.
In the deciding third game, Etowah took advantage of five Decatur errors to post four runs in the first three innings. The Lady Raiders managed two runs in the sixth. Fletcher doubled and scored on Hawkins’ double, and Hawkins scored on Russell’s single.
After that, Wright didn’t allow another baserunner to close out the series.
“Etowah played solid defense,” Mueller said. “After the first game, we didn’t bring our defense, too.”
But afterward, as her players prepared for that water-balloon battle, Mueller couldn’t help but look forward to next season.
“The future looks very bright,” she said. “We’re going to grow from this. We’re going to take these feelings and learn from them.”
Softball Sub-state second round
All series were best-of-three with the winner advancing to the state tournament.
Athens Bible 2-3,
Spring Garden 0-1
Mount Hope 0-5-4,
Ider 1-0-2, W. Morgan 0-2-0
Madison Academy 2-0-6, Elkmont 1-8-5
Central-Florence 1-6-2, Ardmore 3-4-1
Lawrence County 7-2,
East Limestone 4-1
Etowah 0-8-4, Decatur 4-2-2
Scottsboro 1-7, Hartselle 0-2
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