Chelsea Weaver’s walk-off, game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth was as good as it gets. Catcher Kim Whaley’s throw from home plate to second in the Central seventh, though, was just as big.
Weaver’s shot down the right field line with two out scored pinch runner Allie Porter-Garrett from first, lifting the Maryville High School softball team to a thrilling, 1-0 win over the Lady Bobcats in a Region 2AAA semifinal game on Monday at Sandy Springs Park.
The victory, avenging a 1-0 loss to Central at the same point a year ago, sent the Lady Rebels (21-6) on to Wednesday’s region championship game, bringing with it a berth in Friday’s sectional round. It also brought Maryville coach Ken Hawkins his 200th win in nine seasons at the Lady Rebel helm.
“It’s a sweet moment,” Hawkins said. “I’ll never forget it.”
Central looked ready to make it very forgettable in its half of the seventh. Joanna Snyder led off the inning with a single back through the middle of the infield. One batter later, Chelsea Cox laid down a sacrifice in an attempt to put the go-ahead run at second.
Maryville right-hander Brittany Monday had been solid all game, limiting the Lady Bobcats to two hits to that point, but this was dangerous. Thinking quickly, Whaley rose from behind the plate, fielded Cox’s bunt, and, instead of firing to first baseman Chancli Connatser for the easy out, delivered a strike to shortstop Meredith Niethammer covering second to put out the lead runner.
“What a huge play that was!” Hawkins said. “I’m thinking, ‘We’ve got to make plays,’ and, by golly, we stepped up.”
One batter later, the Lady Bobcats attempted the sacrifice once again. Again, the Lady Rebels came up with the smart play, this time with Niethammer fielding a ground ball at short and flipping to second baseman Chasiti Smith to again cut off the lead runner.
Big plays defensively proved a theme for the Lady Rebels when it mattered most.
In the Central eighth, Ashley Grissom’s one-out triple put the go-ahead run at third. A pop up handled by Niethammer and a sizzling throw across the infield from third baseman Bailie Roberts enabled Monday to escape the inning unscathed.
In the Lady Bobcat ninth, a single and a pair of wild pitches again had Central ready to be first on the board, the go-ahead runner again at third. Just as quickly, a strikeout from Monday and another big throw on a ground ball from Roberts snuffed the threat.
Monday didn’t need too terribly much to stymie the Central offense. The hard-throwing junior surrendered only four hits in the extra-inning affair, striking out 11 and walking two. Still, Monday credited her defense for getting her out of the tough spots.
“They know the plays they need to make,” she said, “and they make them. I just focused on doing my best and getting the runners out.”
A year removed from last season’s loss made the difference, Hawkins said, even with runners in scoring position.
“Brittany was in a groove,” he said, “I knew she was good for 10 or 12 innings. She’s a more mature pitcher this year. As a sophomore last year, she turned the corner.”
Central freshman Rachel Medley dueled Monday batter for batter for much of the afternoon, excepting the Maryville first time up. Niethammer, Whaley and Roberts loaded the bases on consecutive singles on one out in the Lady Rebel first inning. Medley pitched her way out of the jam, striking out Weaver for the final out of the inning. It left Hawkins with an uneasy feeling in his stomach.
“I thought about that because I’ve had too many games like that over the years,” he said.
Through six innings, Monday allowed only two base runners to board, effectively negating Maryville’s missed opportunities.
Monday’s pitching and a defense that proved clutch when it needed to most brought the game to Connatser’s bat with two out in the seventh. Medley had retired the first two batters by strikeout.
Connatser never let the young Lady Bobcat ace consider a third, belting Medley’s first offering into left field for a two-out single, with Porter-Garrett coming on to pinch run.
“I was looking for it (a fastball), hoping to drive it,” Connatser said. “She (Medley) was still on top of her game. We were just ready to hit it. It was our time.”
Connatser’s instructions when Porter-Garrett took her place at first base were simple and to the point.
“I just told her to run hard,” she said. “I just knew Allie was going to score.”
Weaver made sure she wouldn’t have long to wait.
“Soon as she hit the ball, I knew Allie was going home,” Monday said.
Like Connatser, Weaver, a sophomore, didn’t wait around, depositing the first pitch she saw from Medley down the right field line.
“I said, ‘There are two outs, runner on first,’” Weaver said. “‘I don’t want to go another inning. I’m going to do something right here.’”
Porter-Garrett was running on contact, never bothering to see if the ball would be caught. When she rounded second, she made eye contact with Hawkins, coaching at third.
“I saw him waving his arms, telling me to go home,” she said.
From first to home is no walk in the park, even for a former 400-meter runner. There was little doubt, though, he would wave Porter-Garrett on, Hawkins said.
“When she was approaching second, I didn’t want to go another inning,” he said. “It was now or never.”
Now ensured her coach wouldn’t spend the offseason sitting on 199, Monday said.
“That would be awful,” she said. “Two hundred just sounds great!”