By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
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.”
One day after scoring early and often in an upset of third-ranked Pleasant Valley, the Eagles had the tables turned on them, watching Walter Welborn jump out to a four-run first-inning lead en route to a 9-2 consolation-bracket victory.
McKinnley Davis plated two with her second single to close the deficit to 7-2 in the fifth inning, but Cold Springs failed to come any closer, eventually allowing another pair of Panther runs to come across in the final frame.
Bailey West was a productive 2 for 3 with a run, Haley Freeman slapped a single to center field and Casey Johnson touched home for the Eagles' other score.
Cold Springs survived quite the scare late in the contest, as players, coaches and fans collectively reacted in shock when Rilee White crumpled to the ground after taking a hard-hit liner off her right leg. Like the ace she is, however, the young gun eventually willed herself up, threw two warmup pitches and finished out the ballgame. White had two strikeouts in six innings.
“She's a bulldog, and she has been ever since I've been around her,” Eagle coach Patrick West said. “This is what she wants to do, and she's going to give you all she's got every game. She's definitely a competitor.”
Despite the season-ending loss, West had no reason not to be proud of his girls for the resume they compiled throughout the 2013 campaign. Cold Springs finished 19-15, reached regionals as its area runner-up and then proved they belonged with the stunner versus Pleasant Valley.
“It's definitely a step in the right direction for us,” the coach said.
Hayden West and Rebekah Calvert are the only two seniors the Eagles will lose to graduation later this month. That number might seem low, but it actually constitutes the team's largest senior class since West took over as coach four years ago.
“Their loyalty to the program is what means a lot to me,” he said. “Spring sports, it's hard for girls, especially seniors because it's the end of the year and they've got so much going on. For them to come to softball practice every day, that speaks pretty highly of them, finishing the deal so to speak.”
With so much experience and talent on its way back, as well as an up-and-coming youth program, West is confident Cold Springs can be right back in the 2A conversation come next spring.
“Of course we want to take it to the next level, and we've got the kids out there to do it,” he said.
The Eagles were able to tack on the first two runs, but Gordo laid claim to the last four, eliminating Vinemont from the 3A consolation bracket with a 4-2 win on Saturday afternoon.
The Red and White loaded the bases with no outs in the second base but were only able to come away with two runs on RBI hits by Allison Fowler and Grace Griggs. The Green Wave just managed to avoid a potential bases-clearing drive when an outfielder hustled for a shoelace catch on a solid drive by Kiersten Simmons.
“Really, I thought we were going to get more out of it,” coach Mark Smothers said of Vinemont's start to the frame. “Their pitcher did a good job of getting them out of it.”
Part of the reason the Eagles season lasted so long was their ability to make plays in the field when it mattered most. They bent a bit in that regard against Gordo, though, allowing the Green Wave to cash in a few runs on hard hits and untimely mistakes.
“We just didn't play quite as well defensively as we had the last couple of days,” Smothers said. “They have a good hitting team, and that made the difference.”
Raven Christiansen closed out a fantastic year in the pitcher's circle with five strikeouts.
Smothers only had glowing remarks for his two departing seniors, Katie Fuller and Rachel Sellers, following their final outing in the familiar Red and White.
“To begin with, they're just great girls,” he said. “They've been positive leaders on and off the field. I think both of them will be successful in whatever they attempt to do.”
The Bearcats’ season came to a close on Saturday night with a 5-0 loss to Lawrence County in the losers’ bracket of the North Regional Softball Tournament in Huntsville.
Cullman previously upset the Red Devils on Friday 4-1 to advance to the winners’ bracket before falling to Southside-Gadsden 5-1 early in the day on Saturday.
The Black and Gold also defeated Muscle Shoals 9-0. Stay tuned for more on this year’s Bearcat softball team.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.