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May 11, 2013

NORTH CENTRAL REGIONAL SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT: Goodwin pitches 41 innings over 2 days, leads Raiders back to state tourney

TUSCALOOSA — After four games, two extra-inning marathons and 41 total innings over a short, two-day span, Cara Goodwin wasn't about to let her prep softball career come to a close in Tuscaloosa.

No. 4 Winfield had found a way to outlast Goodwin's No. 2 Good Hope squad 2-1 in a 14-inning thriller earlier Saturday, but here stood the Raider ace at the plate versus Cordova with a second chance to extend her team's season.

Goodwin ripped a two-run single to left field off Blue Devil sophomore Faith Sims in the bottom of the sixth inning and then dug deep to strike out the side in the top half of the final frame, fueling a 2-1 triumph in the consolation-bracket final of the Class 3A North Central Regional Tournament.

They were exhausted, sore and mentally drained, but just like that, the Raiders (41-8) were on their way to Montgomery for a second-straight year — and Goodwin couldn't have been anymore thrilled.

“I was like, 'It's not going to end like this,'” the All-American said of her final at-bat. “I was like, 'I can do this. I haven't hit her. I'm going to hit her this time.' That's all I was saying in my head.”

Though Goodwin came up with the game-saving hit, Darby Randolph, Kayla Tillman and Bailie Andrews were crucial in setting up the slugger. Randolph was beaned to start the sequence, and Tillman kept the ball rolling with a power bunt that sailed over Cordova's first wave of defenders. From there, Andrews came through with a well-executed sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third for Goodwin.

After taking care of business with her bat, the UAB signee turned to her arm for the final three outs, shaking off a triple, an error and a run to send three Blue Devils back to the dugout and seal the deal. The last strikeout was her seventh of the game and 46th of the tournament.

“To quote an umpire last year, she's a beast,” Good Hope coach Wayne Harris said of Goodwin. “I told her we had somebody ready to go if need be, but she wanted the ball. She's sore and we're all hurting and aching, but adrenaline can get you through some of that. Everybody did what they're supposed to do.”

Goodwin unleashed two hits, while Maegan Sterling had one off Sims, who was credited with the loss. Cordova's sophomore hurler fanned 10, one day after striking out 12 Raiders in a 13-inning knee-knocker.

Anyone impressed with that lengthy pitcher's duel on Friday hadn't seen anything yet. Sure, it was sensational, but there was no way it topped Saturday's 14-inning test of endurance put on by Goodwin and Winfield's Madi Moore.

The two matched each other K for K through the first four innings, striking out eight apiece before the Raiders put up a run on the Pirates in the fifth.

Sterling led off the frame with a walk, advanced to second on passed ball and moved on over to third on a perfect sac bunt from Savannah Fendley. On the ensuing at-bat, Kacy Thomas came through with a fielder's choice groundout to the shortstop, allowing Sterling to slide in safely under the catcher's tag.

Staring a 1-0 deficit straight in the face, Moore made sure Good Hope's offense wouldn't pose any more problems the rest of the contest. The sophomore sensation proceeded to retire the next 29 batters in order, staying perfect for nine consecutive innings on her way to a 26-strikeout masterpiece. The only hit Moore allowed was a leadoff single to Tillman all the way back in the first.

Goodwin wasn't exactly a slouch in the marathon matchup, either. She only allowed one hit — also to the first batter of the game — through the first six innings before Winfield finally got to the fireballer in the seventh. With just two outs standing between the Raiders and an easier state-tourney berth, the Pirates made their move. An awkward popup to shallow left field resulted in a double, and the game was tied one batter later on a line drive to center.

Goodwin, who had 16 K's in the winner's bracket final, and the Good Hope defense held firm for another six innings but buckled in the 14th, allowing Winfield to capitalize on a single, walk, error and another hit for the walk-off win.

That disparaging defeat was the last thing on Harris' mind after his Raiders responded with their own gutsy victory against Cordova.

“They overcame a big emotional low this morning, being two outs away and extending it for another seven innings, another game” the coach said. “You couldn't ask for 13 better kids to come together and to do whatever they needed. They accomplished another goal, and now we've got one more to go.”

Of course, the goal Harris referred to is Good Hope's quest for its first state softball title in school history. This year's tournament will begin Friday in Montgomery, and following 2012's 0-2 display, Goodwin has no doubts her squad will put on a much better showing.

“It's not going to be like that this year,” the senior said. “I feel like we've matured more as a team. I think our hitting is better than it was last year.”

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