By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
All Darcie Wilson wanted when she stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 13th inning of a scoreless top-10 battle with Cordova was a base hit.
Fortunately for Good Hope, its catcher wound up getting exactly what she wanted — and much, much more.
Wilson blasted a walk-off laser over the left-field fence and circled the bases to lift the No. 2 Raiders to a 1-0 triumph over the No. 8 Blue Devils in a Class 3A North Central Regional-opener that, at times, seemed like it would never end.
“When the count was 2-0, I knew she was coming at me. I saw the pitch and let it rip,” Good Hope's hero said of her game-winning swing. “I knew it was gone right off the bat. It's just remarkable. No words can describe it really.”
The home run couldn't have come at a better time for Wilson, who said “it's been a rough ride” since she recently found out her grandpa was diagnosed with cancer.
“I did it all for him,” the senior said while fighting back tears. “That's my main reason I'm here.”
Wilson's bomb put an end to a lengthy, yet quite remarkable, pitcher's duel between Raider phenom Cara Goodwin and Cordova sophomore Faith Sims. Both aces went the distance, with Goodwin's 15 strikeouts edging her counterpart's 12.
While Goodwin kept the the Blue Devil bats relatively quiet with just four hits, Good Hope had trouble capitalizing on the 10 it tagged off Sims, stretching the contest into almost two game's worth of innings.
Kayla Tillman was 3 for 5 with a triple, and Wilson shook off a hit-by-pitch to add a single before delivering the deciding blow. Goodwin, Bailie Andrews, Alannah Henke, Maegan Sterling and Kacy Thomas all pitched in with one hit apiece.
Sterling's snazzy glove work was crucial in the Raiders' advancement. The short stop made an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left field to end the top of the 11th and then snared a line drive and fired it to second for an inning-ending double play the very next frame.
“We've been working on that all week because we've made some silly infield mistakes,” Wilson said. “I'm glad she came through like that. It kept us in the game.”
An extensive rain delay muddied the Tuscaloosa tourney's original schedule, forcing Good Hope to turn right around and face Gordo for a spot in the winner's bracket final.
The Raiders didn't appear too frazzled by the short turnaround, hopping on the Green Wave early and holding on for a 5-2 victory.
Wilson's hot day at the plate continued with a two-RBI double for Good Hope's first runs in the fourth inning.
“You keep hitting it hard and eventually something good is going to happen — and something good happened,” Raider coach Wayne Harris said of Wilson's impressive offensive display.
Goodwin and Thomas were both good for two hits each, while Henke, Sterling and Darby Randolph (triple) all had one. Andrews chipped in a sac fly, and Tillman came through with an RBI.
Despite hurling 13 innings less than 30 minutes before heading back out to the pitcher's circle, Goodwin was as dominant as ever. The UAB signee struck out five in the first two innings and finished with eight while allowing five hits. Both Gordo runs were unearned.
“The weather was playing havoc. It was cold this morning, hot this afternoon and it wears on you, beats you down,” Harris said. “But she sucked it up and did what she had to do. She's a team player, a competitor who wants to win.”
Good Hope (40-7) is now in position to corral its second regional championship in as many seasons. The Raiders are slated to take on No. 4 Winfield at 9:30 a.m. today, with the winner earning the first berth at next week's state tournament. The loser will drop to the consolation-bracket final to fight for the other open state spot.
“Now we've got to win seven innings ... well, we've got to win a game tomorrow. A game isn't always seven innings,” Harris said with a laugh in reference to his team's marathon in the first game of the day. “We played 20 innings and got two wins today. We did what we had to do to advance to Saturday and now we need to take care of Winfield tomorrow.”
The Eagles were well aware of Pleasant Valley's No. 3 status, but they sure didn't let it intimidate them, scoring three runs in each of the first two innings en route to a 7-4 upset of the Raiders.
“We were motivated. We were ready. They just wanted to play hard, get some hits and see what happened,” Cold Springs coach Patrick West said. “It's probably the biggest win we've had in six or seven years.”
The Eagles capitalized on three-straight walks to open the ballgame, followed by a pair of passed balls and a Taylor Payne RBI single for its first-inning production.
Cold Springs relied on a two-out rally in the next frame, with Rilee White connecting for a two-run single and Hayden West driving in one on a bases-loaded hit to left field.
“We put the pressure on them right from the beginning,” Coach West said. “That's exactly what we wanted to do.”
White also stroked a double to cap off a two-hit performance, which was also matched by Payne and H. West. McKinnley Davis chimed in with an RBI single, while Haley Freeman, Rebekah Calvert and Bailey West all had one hit apiece.
The West sisters both came through in clutch fielding situations for the Eagles.
Hayden snow-coned a foul popup with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth — despite running full speed into the fence in right field — while Bailey hung on for an over-the-shoulder grab in right center field — despite colliding with Davis shortly after the catch.
The Eagles weren't able to hold on to their momentum in their following game against Hale County, falling apart in the field in the fourth inning on their way to a 6-0 loss.
Cold Springs (19-14) is scheduled to play Walter Welborn in a 2A consolation-bracket matchup today at 8 a.m.
“After beating that team, we know we're probably just about as good as anybody that's left out there,” Coach West said of his squad's opening upset. “Anybody we play, we think we've got just as good a team or as good of a chance to move on. Our goal was to make the playoffs. Now we want to take it another step.”
The Eagles took the opposite road of its Cullman County counterpart in Cold Springs, beginning the regional tournament with a loss and rebounding with a win to keep their season alive for at least one more day.
Madi Moore proved to be too much for Vinemont's young bats to handle in the opener. Winfield's lefty ace fanned 14 and gave up just one hit — a single by Katie Speer — in a close 5-0 final. Kiersten Simmons also drew a walk and stole a base for the Eagles.
“We've seen a left-hander a couple of times, but we haven't seen a left-hander before with that kind of command and speed,” Vinemont coach Mark Smothers said. “Like I told the girls, there were a couple of breaks that went the other way. I hope our girls have the confidence that if we see them again, we've got a chance.”
With their season on the line, the Eagles bounced back with a vengeance, pummeling Sipsey Valley for an 11-1 win in six innings later in the night.
Pretty much every girl on Vinemont's roster played a part in the victory. Allison Fowler led the hit parade with two knocks for two RBIs, while Katie Fuller and Caitlin Kuykendall also piled on two hits apiece. Kendra Pearson hit an RBI single and stole a base, Speer cranked a double, Rachel Sellers and Grace Griggs each had an RBI, and Simmons stole a base.
Raven Christiansen did her part from the pitcher's circle, sending 10 batters back to the dugout on strikes.
Vinemont will match up with Gordo today at 9:30 a.m. for the right to continue through the 3A consolation bracket.
“I'm glad we're able to continue playing,” Smothers said. “We played well today. Maybe their confidence will be where it needs to be tomorrow.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.