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Cougars Blank Christiansburg in RRD Opener

By Ben Hanneman

Seven at-bats.

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That’s all PCHS Coach Gina Miano and her softball coaching staff figured they’d have to make something happen against the Christiansburg Blue Demons and their ace Tiffany Brown in the River Ridge District season opener Tuesday in Pulaski.

Brown had been averaging 14 strikeouts per game heading into Tuesday’s district lidlifter. So Miano and Company figured with 21 outs per seven-inning game – yup, high school softball teams play seven innings — minus a potential 14 strikeouts left the Lady Cougars with a just a handful of attempts to try to solve the Demons’  hard-throwing hurler.

Well, not only did the Cougars solve Brown’s rise ball, they did it in an unexpected way. Instead of swinging for the fences as is natural for most teams, Pulaski used a less-is-more approach, or what baseball fans call “small ball.”

“Coach (Shannon) Brewer developed a great game plan. We knew statistically we probably only had seven at-bats to make something happen. So we went big time to the short game,” Miano said.

And it worked. The Cougars struck out only seven times and banged out eight hits, blanking Christiansburg 10-0 in a six-inning mercy-rule shortened game to run its record to 4-4 overall and a perfect 1-0 – a first-place 1-0 record by the way – in the RRD.

“The kids really executed well,” Miano said. “The key was getting the bat on the ball and disrupting their defense.”

Four different players – Katie Hurst, Lauren Shumate, Courtney Beville, and Marissa Stephens – scattered four sacrifice bunts. Hurst’s bunt in the fourth sparked a three-run rally that broke open a tight 2-0 game.

And while the bats were cooking small-ball style, Pulaski’s base runners ran like they stole something, which they did. Seven bases in all. Leah Nichols, who hardly gets to play much, and Kelli Duncan, knee brace and all, led the Cougars’ band of merry base stealers with two each. Meanwhile, Shumate, Jordan Chrisley, and Chelsea Golden accounted for the remaining three.

At the same time, Beville, who has struggled a time or two this year, pitched arguably the best game of her short career, striking out seven batters herself and surrendering only two hits, one of which should never have happened. The first hit was a legitimate single in the opening, but then late in the game a slow infield grounder found a gap between the infielders who just stood around watching the ball.

“That was just a case where everyone thought someone else was going to get it,” Miano said. “You couldn’t call it an error because nobody touched it.”

More importantly, Beville did not allow any walks, something that plagued her in her last outing at home against Patrick Henry. Although the Cougars won that game, Beville’s gave up of a number of free passes in one particularly tough multi-run inning.

“That’s my biggest pet peeve in the world,” Miano said. “But she’s been working very hard and Coach Vernon (Crouch) and Coach Natalie (Parson) have really been working with our pitchers on location. It sounds like a little thing, but you can see the huge difference it’s made.”

Meantime, Pulaski’s infield appeared more confident as well despite playing without their emotional leader in Brook Hundley who is on the proverbial shelf tending to a medical situation. Callie Gregory, Miano’s other pitcher, has found a second home at first base. Gregory fielded seven throws flawlessly, mostly from Sara Wright, another fish out of water at second instead of her customary spot at first.

“I’m very pleased with how they’ve all settled in (to their new positions). At first we’ve not dropped a ball,” Miano said. “Taking nothing away from LB (Hundley) because we miss her and need her, Sara is just that kind of athlete. I could play her at catcher. I’m not going to do that, but she’s that kind of athlete,” Miano said.

That’s not to say that Lauren Shumate at third or Golden at second haven’t been contributing as well. In fact, Golden impressed Miano with three flawless plays in the field.

“Chelsea played a phenomenal game,” Miano said. “She was hustling all over the place.”

At the plate, Golden kicked off the fourth with a walk. Hurst’s sacrifice bunt moved her to second. Chrisley’s surprise bunt single between first and second scored Golden.

“We haven’t done that in two years,” Miano said. “She was so excited. She told me she loved it when I called that because she ended up scoring. I knew she knew exactly what to do and I knew it was going to be the first pitch.”

Wright was then drilled in the left arm and with one out Shumate smacked a double to left to drive in Chrisley and Wright.

“That was huge!” Miano said of Shumate’s two-run double. “That was a big mental piece for us. That put us up five runs and that just supports your pitcher going into the next inning.”

In Pulaski’s half of the fifth, Carli Brewer, typically a bunter or a slap hitter for average, showed some rare power, muscling a triple to the opposite field mere feet from a home run.

“She took an outside pitch and just went with it. I thought it was going out at first,” Miano said, adding that Brewer’s recent power surge is a credit not only to good coaching, but more importantly to her growing up at the plate this season.

“Carli has very much opened her mind to listening and has matured at the plate in terms of confidence,” Miano said.

Pulaski hosts Cave Spring Friday, April 19.

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