Erin Lopez opened her lunchbox and found exactly what she was looking for:

The key to a perfect swing.

Once Cullman High’s sophomore first baseman had that part figured out, the rest was all gravy.

“My dad puts little inspirational notes in my lunchbox, and today it said ‘I believe in you, people believe in you and all you have to do is believe in yourself,’” said Lopez. “So I said to myself, ‘I can hit these pitches.’ And I did.”

Did she ever.

Lopez went a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate Thursday as 10th-ranked Cullman trounced Curry 10-0 for a Class 5A, Area 12 victory. In her final at-bat, Lopez smacked a two-run homer over the wall in center field to spark the Bearcats’ game-winning fifth-inning rally.

And it was more of the same in Lopez’s two other trips to the plate.

Lopez led off the bottom of the second with a single, sparking a two-run frame for the hosts. After Kayla Dean drove in Lopez with a double, Cassidy Putman drove in Dean with an infield single.

Two innings later Lopez started another rally with a leadoff single. After a force play at third, Megan Sims, Dean and Lesley Cork crossed the plate to put Cullman up 5-0.

After Lopez homered to start the fifth-inning rally, Sims, Dean and Cork scored again to end the game.

“Lopez started (the season) slow, so we moved her down in the order,” said Bearcats coach Marc Ponder. “Sometimes hitters relax and see more pitches when they’re lower in the order.

“And it worked. Erin has worked real hard and she’s a good hitter to begin with.”

Following Lopez in the order are four more good hitters — players who accounted for almost all of Cullman’s offense Thursday.

Hitting out of the seventh spot, Dean led the Bearcats with three runs scored. Cork and Sims scored two runs each and Putman drove in three.

Which is exactly what Ponder wants out of the bottom of his lineup.

“Our seven-eight-nine hitters were key,” he said. “And that’s special, to have that in your lineup. Today the lineup kind of resembled the lineup from last year.”

Last season, Ponder’s team made Cullman’s first appearance in the state tournament since making the transition to fast-pitch.

To get back, Ponder knows the Bearcats will need hitting — and pitching — like they got Thursday.

While Lopez and company stole the show offensively, senior pitcher Elizabeth Buchanan quietly turned in her second straight dominating performance in Area 12 play.

Two days after hurling a one-hit shutout against Walker, Buchanan repeated the feat. Against Curry, the senior gave up one hit and two walks while striking out three in five innings.

“Two hits in 12 innings of area play — anytime you do that, you’re going to give us a chance to win,” said Ponder.

Cullman hosts Hazel Green on Monday before returning to Area 12 play Tuesday against Brewer.

Michael Cummings can be reached by email at michaelc@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 258.

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