By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Through the first four innings of Tuesday’s Cullman-Hartselle softball game, the two teams duked it out in a way that would make the heated rivalry awfully proud.
The fifth inning, however, was a totally different narrative for the Black and Gold, as the Tigers poured on eight runs during a hit-heavy frame to race ahead and hold on for an 11-4 victory.
Hartselle’s win allowed it to secure home-field advantage for next week’s area tournament.
“We just kind of fell apart there,” Stephanie Barlow said after the ugly loss. “It just happens. Today wasn’t our day. We hit a rough spot and couldn’t recover.”
While Class 5A No. 10 Cullman (24-13) was busy hitting its rough spot, the No. 5 Tigers (33-9) were in the process of knocking the cover off the ball. They notched 16 base hits in the game, including eight in the big fifth inning.
Pitcher Olivia Schwaiger kept Hartselle’s bats at bay through four innings of work before running into some big-time trouble.
She allowed three run-scoring hits before being replaced by Claire Jenkins. It didn’t get much better for the latter, either, as she promptly gave up a single and a walk before Hartselle’s Katherine Poe hit a screaming line drive over the center-field fence for a grand slam to give her team a 9-0 cushion.
Meanwhile, Cullman just couldn’t piece together any strong innings. The Bearcats opened four frames with a base knock, but they were unable to capitalize any further on the Tigers’ Madeline Sittason or her shaky-at-best infield defense.
“We just couldn’t put it all together today,” Barlow said. “We weren’t able to string any hits in a row.”
Barlow’s squad scored one run in the fifth and seventh innings on Hartselle errors. Its other two runs came courtesy of a nice two-run double from Sierra Easterwood in the sixth.
Jenkins had four hits for the Bearcats, while Hannah Morton and Easterwood each collected two. Tiffani Schwaiger and Kaitlyn Brannon had one base knock apiece.
Hope Cain, Hannah Jenkins and Sittason each notched three hits apiece for Hartselle.
Cullman will host Arab Thursday before traveling to Sumiton Christian next Monday. The ’Cats will end their regular season with a home matchup versus Brewer on Tuesday.
Barlow is hoping her team can put this one behind them and start focusing on what will be the most important contests of the season.
“Absolutely, we need a short memory,” the coach said. “I’m hoping we can use this as motivation when we play them again. We know that we can keep this close.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at email@example.com.