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Bats on ice in Cougar softball loss

By Ben Hanneman

Oh that schizophrenic spring weather!

The nice-one-day-crappy-the-next climate that no doubt has had Punxatawny Phil on suicide watch lately bit the Pulaski County Cougars softball team in its proverbial backside Wednesday in an 11-2 loss at home to the Carroll County Cavaliers.

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While the weather was indeed beautiful Wednesday, the Sybil-like weather pattern earlier in the week kept the Cougars indoors all but two days since their last game, a 14-2 drubbing of Galax back on March 19. And the lack of live pitching has wreaked havoc on the rhythm crucial in any sport, and especially softball.

“It kills you when you can’t get into a pattern of play. We haven’t done anything in about a week and we’re still playing in 40 degrees. We’re trying to find rhythm,” Coach Gina Miano said after the team’s second one-sided loss of the year. Earlier the Cougars lost to Floyd County 8-1 in Floyd.

Miano hinted this may not be the last game the Cougars take on the proverbial chin if fickle Mother Nature’s weather patterns have any say in it.

“I think we’re going to take some of these (kinds of games) to find that rhythm. We can get a hit here and there, but we need a string of hits. We can get a pitch here and there, but we need a string of pitches. We can get a couple good innings of defense, but we need seven. So we’re going to continue to try to find that pattern.”

The Cavaliers set their own pattern early as they unloaded four hits off of starter Callie Gregory and scored a pair of runs in the opening inning. Carroll County scored two more in the third and fifth innings and added five more in the sixth on 12 hits and more errors than anyone wants to admit – six in all if you’re keeping score at home.

At the plate the Cougars didn’t fare much better either. Leadoff hitter Sarah Wright, no doubt hoping to show some more home run power she showed against Galax, drew a leadoff walk – one of two she rang up against the Cavs. But she was stranded at first on some key strikeouts and fine defensive plays.

“They know her from all kinds of travel ball, so this is the way it’s going to be with Sarah. We need to use it to our advantage to get her on the bases,” Miano said.

After Wright’s walk, Cavalier pitcher Gracie Davidson retired the next 11 Cougars in a row, which Miano again chalked up to a lack of live pitching and maybe a side order of nerves. In fact, on the needs checklist Miano began after the first game – which is up to about 18 items right now – relaxing in the batter’s box is by far job one for the next game.

“They (the Cavaliers) were more relaxed at the plate and we were a little more uptight. You could tell by the swings. Our swings weren’t fluid because we just haven’t seen live pitching. I mean Carroll County has a fine pitcher, but we could probably hit her better,” Miano said.

Senior Kelli Duncan did get the Cougars rolling offensively in the fourth with a solid single to left center. Showing little effects from a knee injury a year ago, Duncan took second on a Lauren Shumate single and scored on a Carlie Brewer single over an infield she drew in with two bunt attempts to open the at-bat.

“Carlie can either drag (bunt) or slap hit. We were looking for the drag, but when she got the strikes on her she hit away and did a nice job of seeing the ball and keeping the fielders off balance,” Miano said.

In a scoreless fifth Marissa Stephens was stranded at first after a leadoff single. Brooke Hundley opened the sixth with a 210-foot solo home run to right field, her first out-of-the-park round-tripper of the year. She did have an inside-the-park home run against Galax.

On Wednesday against Carroll County Hundley circled the bases with a huge grin on her face. When asked if she knew the ball was gone when she hit it, Hundley said, “It sounded like it was!”

However, in the top half of the sixth the damage had already been done as the Cavs plated five runs due mainly to fielding miscues. Courtney Blevins, who’d relieved Gregory in the third with the score a still very manageable 4-0, allowed just four hits in the sixth. Two errors and a wild pitch – all with two outs – helped send nine Carroll County batters to the plate.

Pulaski County got another chance to improve on Miano’s checklist on the road Thursday at Galax. They are scheduled – weather permitting – to play a double-header Friday at home against Radford. First pitch is slated for 4:30 p.m.

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