By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
The last time Cullman and West Point locked horns on the softball field, the Warriors edged the Bearcats at home in a thrilling, one-run victory.
When the two teams met again in the Class 5A, Area 15 Tournament on Thursday night, it was yet another heart-stopping affair, this one ultimately belonging to the Black and Gold.
Cullman hit two home runs, played solid defense and stood up to a late West Point rally in the bottom of the seventh inning to secure a 6-5 victory, extending its season at least one more day, while sending the Warriors home for good.
“It was a very exciting game for both teams,” Cullman coach Stephanie Barlow said. “We got down early, but the important thing is we didn’t give up. I told them if we keep handling the little stuff, we can come back and win. We made the adjustments, and it paid off for us.”
The Bearcats got off to a fast start, taking a quick 2-0 lead in the top half of the first inning on a two-run single by eighth-grader Mckensi Burks.
West Point fired right back in the bottom of the frame, as Daeshia Smith drew a bases-loaded walk to cut the deficit in half before Brooke Marchman cleared the bags with a three-run triple to the right-center field gap to give her team a 4-2 advantage heading into the second inning.
The score remained the same until the fourth, as neither Cullman’s Claire Jenkins or the Warriors’ Jeri Beasley were willing to give an inch on the mound.
After retiring the first two batters in the top half of the fourth, Beasley surrendered a solo blast to Burks that closed the gap to 4-3.
The Bearcats didn’t stop there, though, taking a 5-4 advantage on a two-run home run from the pitcher Jenkins in the very next inning.
“That was McKensi’s (Burks) first varsity home run and Claire’s (Jenkins) second of the year,” Barlow said. “We had some power tonight, but we also played some very good small ball to score some runs as well.”
With the Black and Gold clinging to a two-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, Jenkins needed just three more outs to close out the game and the Warriors’ season.
West Point, however, wasn’t going to make it easy.
Courtney Walker led off the frame with a walk before Mackenzie Baswell roped a double to left field to put runners at second and third with nobody out.
After an RBI groundout from Karra Elam cut the deficit to one, Jenkins went into lockdown mode, inducing a comebacker to the mound from Mallory Walker before getting Darana Campbell to strike out swinging to end the contest and preserve the victory for Cullman.
“She was very, very calm out there,” Barlow said.
Burks finished the game with three knocks to lead all players, while teammates Elli Dixon and Jenkins were each good for two hits. Hayden Short and Olivia Schwaiger added one apiece.
Although the season didn’t quite end the way Kevin Sullens might have wanted, the Warrior coach had plenty of good things to say about his departing seniors.
“These girls battled hard,” an emotional Sullens said. “I’ve had great leadership all year from these seniors. I couldn’t ask for anymore out of them and this team. They’re all good, quality young women.”
Added Barlow of West Point: “They are a fighting team.”
Campbell collected two hits for the Warriors, while Elam, Marchman and Baswell rounded out the offensive production with one hit apiece.
Cullman will take on the loser of East Limestone/Hartselle Friday at 11:30 a.m. A win would guarantee the Bearcats a place at next week's regional tournament.
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.