Tuesday, June 17, 2014
By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
A rule governing play at the Amateur Softball Association 18U State Championship Tournament almost played a big role in the outcome of the winners bracket game between the Aiken and North Augusta all-stars on Saturday.
North Augusta won 6-4 at Citizens Park, but not before the 90-minute time limit caused the coaches to trade strategic maneuvers. If an inning ends with time left on the clock, the next inning must be completed.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning and North Augusta – playing as the visitors – up 6-1 with about a minute left on the clock, North Augusta head coach Tommy DeAngel called a meeting on the mound. Aiken head coach Lee Barron said that the time limit often causes such moves.
“It puts a whole new spin on it because whoever’s in the lead is trying to run the clock out,” Barron said.
The Aiken coaches had been content to let the fifth inning be their last attack or perhaps let the inning end in time for another to begin, with one run having already crossed when Maci Hutto walked before stealing two bases and scoring on a groundout by Callaway Barron. But when North Augusta left them with just 20 seconds, the Aiken coaches had Madison McCoy step off third base on purpose for the third out with time left to begin another frame.
North Augusta went down in just four batters, and Aiken began to rally in the bottom of the sixth. Five of the first six batters of the inning reached, which had DeAngel worried about his strategy.
“I’m biting my nails because they actually turned it on and started hitting the ball,” he said. “I think we woke them up a little bit.”
Aiken’s Lindsee McCarthy walked to lead off the inning, and after Caitlyn Holley flew out to third, Kira Brown singled to right. McCarthy and Lauren Holley, running for Brown, scored on wild pitches as Natalie Hornsby and Ashley Blair walked.
Caroline Crowder, who had already traded places in the circle with Parker Blattel once, came back in during Blair’s walk, and while she also surrendered a run on a single by Hutto, she got back-to-back flyouts to end the threat and send North Augusta into today’s 9 a.m. championship round.
“I can’t say enough for her,” DeAngel said, noting both pitchers faced temperatures around 90 degrees and three total games for the day. “It helped us to get where we’re at here.”
Both coaches had strategies for preparing their team for the grind of three or four games in a day. DeAngel, whose squad beat Belvedere and the Invaders before topping Aiken, said he went to a lighter practice schedule, while Barron said he and his coaches monitored what the girls were doing to take care of their bodies. Aiken beat Newberry earlier in the day.
“Just keep them hydrated, keep them out of the pool, that’s the main thing,” he said.
Hailey Blackwell started the scoring for North Augusta by notching a first inning single and then moving around on errors. All day, North Augusta used stolen bases, bunts and aggressive base running to put pressure on Aiken, with Blackwell and Genesis Stokes scoring two runs each at the top of the order.
“That’s how we do it. We work as a team,” noting that his team will use the bunt either for hits or to move runners over. “Once we had the lead, we were just swinging away.”
Aiken dug itself a 6-0 hole before beginning it’s comeback in the fifth. Only Hornsby and Hutto reached base twice on the day.
“I’m proud of the way they fought back,” Lee said. “We’ve got to do that from the beginning.”