Win the inning.
For Coach Gina Miano and the Pulaski County Lady Cougars’ softball team, that slogan, scrolled on the dry erase board in the dugout as a stark and instant reminder, means advancing one base runner at farther than their opponent before the third out.
“All I’m doing with that is trying to break the huge two-hour picture into workable goals, like mini goals. Mini goals win the game,” Miano explained.
Monday night against the visiting Patrick Henry Patriots the Cougars won the first inning – and in a big way. Bigger than they have so far this season big. Nine runs big. So big that they could have packed up and gone home after that inning really. More on that later.
But then, no doubt enjoying the warm weather since, say, last June, they won the second, and the fourth, fifth and sixth. By the time they took a collective breath and glanced at the scoreboard the game was over by way of the VHSL rulebook that says any team with a 10-run lead after five is the automatic winner.
In the only inning Pulaski didn’t win, the Patriots put up five runs on just one hit as the plate moved around on starter Courtney Blevins. Add to that a ground ball that played one of their best infielders instead of the other way around and Patrick Henry had cut Pulaski’s lead to a very manageable four runs.
“That (inning) was just a called third strike not going her way and then a double-play not going our way,” Miano explained. “We’ve got to learn to not let that kind of thing get in our heads.”
But the Cougars’ damage had already been done. Remember that first inning? Well, the only hit missing from the cycle that frame was a triple, and if the center fielder hadn’t gotten a glove on the ball Jordan Chrisley may have even had that.
Instead, Chrisley’s drive to center was ruled a two-base error. She took third on the throw into the infield as three runs scored. Right after that Sarah Wright clubbed her second home run of the year on a rope to left that never got more than 15 feet off the ground.
Other contributors to the near-cycle in the first inning were Chrisley, Carli Brewer, Courtney Beville, and Kelli Duncan each with singles. Meanwhile, Wright, and Lauren Shumate logged doubles, both to right center.
The Cougar hit parade continued in their half of the third as they nearly equaled Patrick Henry’s five-run output on another near-cycle. Chrisley started it with a double. She scored on a Wright single. Wright scored on Duncan’s second single of the game and Duncan rode home in the wake of Brooke Hundley’s second home run of the year to left, nearly the same place she hit her first one last week.
Chrisley hit Pulaski’s third home run in as many innings, a solo poke to center, to restore the Cougars’ nine-run lead.
“That felt so good coming off the bat,” Chrisley said as her teammates mobbed her in the dugout.
The Patriots answered with two more runs, one each in the fifth and sixth on three hits and a couple of walks. However, a three-run burst in the sixth salted this one away, mercifully. Callie Gregory knocked a pinch-hit single in place of Beville. She went to second on a Chrisley walk and scored on Duncan’s third single of the game.
Wright, who reached first on her third hit – a single – went to second on Duncan’s base hit. She scored the final run of the game when Hundley’s ground ball was misplayed for the sixth error of the game.
After the game, Miano was all smiles.
“We needed a game like this to establish our rhythm,” she said. “We needed to put more than two or three hits together. Whether they were home runs or singles it didn’t matter. We needed to have a little bit of a string put together, so this was big for us, for our kids to gain a little confidence and again you can see, hitting is contagious.”
The Cougars will look to continue that contagious offense on the road Wednesday against Carroll County. They begin River Ridge District play Tuesday, April 16 at home against Christiansburg.
Win the inning.