By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Canceling reservations for an entire softball team isn't exactly Wayne Harris' idea of a good time. Yet, that was precisely the predicament the coach was put in when his Good Hope squad failed to score a run in two quick losses at the 2012 state tournament.
Flash forward one year later, though, and my how things have changed. Here's to hoping Harris packed an extra change of clothes — because his Raiders are sticking around for the weekend in Montgomery.
No. 2 Good Hope jumped on No. 6 White Plains for one run in the first inning and added another in the sixth, making life much easier for Cara Goodwin, who struck out 12 in a 2-0 shutout early Friday afternoon.
“I felt like last year we came in here feeling like someone owed us something because it was our first time here,” said Red and White left fielder Kacy Thomas, who smoked a double, scored a run and made her pitcher happy by going all out on defense in the winning effort. “Now we kind of walk in here with a chip on our shoulder. We're kind of coming back, and, I guess you could say, taking revenge.”
The Lady Raiders' celebration of their first state-tourney victory since 2007 only lasted about seven hours, however, as Madison Academy sent the Red and White to the Class 3A consolation bracket with a 3-0 final later in the night.
After laying two golden goose eggs in 2012, Good Hope didn't wait long to outdo that paltry production this time around. Kayla Tillman led off the first contest with a single and took advantage of a throwing error to head to second. From there, she moved one base closer on a sacrifice bunt by Bailie Andrews and then scored on the ensuing at-bat on a grounder to the shortstop by Goodwin.
One run turned out to be all Goodwin needed, but she certainly didn't mind the insurance the Raiders picked up in the sixth inning.
Thomas started the frame in style, blasting a double off the left-field fence and advancing on a sacrifice bunt by Darby Randolph. She froze at third when Tillman hit a dribbler to the pitcher but took off once the throw was made to first, sliding in safely at the plate to stretch Good Hope's lead to 2-0.
“In the back of mind, I thought it was gone,” Thomas said of her booming double. “I was like, my first home run ever is going to be at state — and then it drops. I thought, it's OK, it's OK. It's just meant for someone else. But I'll take it. We got the W.”
Maegan Sterling and Alannah Henke both contributed a single apiece.
White Plains' generally potent lineup was kept in check by Goodwin all game. The UAB signee got batter after batter to bite on her signature rise ball, while also inducing a number of deep, but catchable, fly balls.
Goodwin struck out the side in the second and third innings and was only tagged for four hits in her latest shutout.
“I just stuck with the simple things, the rise ball,” the Raider ace said. “I love when we score first. It's so awesome. It's like a little cushion.”
Goodwin escaped two-out trouble in the second and fifth frames with strikeouts in each instance. The first situation was brought about by a ground-rule double, but the second, a three-base error on a tailing liner hit sharply to right field, was avoidable.
As a longtime high school softball coach, Harris understands miscues are part of the game. He just doesn't want any to snowball into disaster as his squad progresses through the most important tournament of the year.
“I told them, 'You can make one mistake, just don't make a second,'” Harris recalled. “We responded by getting the next girl out, so she had three bases, and I hope she enjoyed it.”
Harris' comments on the first game turned out to be quite prophetic in the nightcap, as errors were ultimately what undid Good Hope in its 3-0 defeat versus Madison Academy. Toss in the fact the Raiders had less hits — three — than fielding blunders — four — which is rarely a winning combination in a regular season game, much less the winners' bracket quarterfinal of the state championship tourney.
“We didn't get in front of grounders and dropped fly balls, and you can't afford to do that,” Harris said. “Of course, we didn't score, so it doesn't matter if they scored 15 or 100. I guess it's my fault I didn't have them mentally ready to play. Now we have a little longer road to get back.”
Goodwin was perfect through the first three innings before back-to-back errors and a single resulted in a Mustang run in the fourth.
Madison Academy capitalized on two more defensive miscues and strung together three singles in the sixth for its other two scores. Good Hope catcher Darcie Wilson ended the inning with a full-extension diving catch on a weak popup hit foul just down the third-base line.
Goodwin finished with 11 strikeouts, as did her Mustang counterpart, Katie Clarke. The Raider hurler's 23 strikeouts on Friday increased her season total to 505.
Tillman led off the second game with a crisp double to left-center field. Goodwin and Bailie Andrews both chipped in singles.
The loss leaves the Red and White (42-9) needing to win four games in a row today, starting with a 9 a.m. matchup against No. 4 Winfield.
Of course, Good Hope is rather familiar with the Pirates, who outlasted the Raiders 2-1 in a 14-inning marathon at the North Central Regional Tournament just last Saturday. Winfield lefty Madi Moore stole the show in that barnburner, striking out 26 in a one-hit gem.
When asked whether he expects his team to be motivated by that heart-wrenching loss, Harris didn't mince his words.
“I hope so,” he quickly replied. “But it doesn't matter. If it's Winfield or Sparkman or whoever, they're in our pathway to get back to where we've worked all year for.
“They're a resilient group. Obviously we've won a bunch of ballgames. There have been some times where we've been down and come back, and we just have to focus on that. We have to bond together and get angry and focused and battle back through, play Winfield and then whoever's the next one and whoever's the next one.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.