By Ben Hanneman
The Pulaski County Lady Cougars have lost five games against River Ridge District opponents, but Thursday’s 12-8 loss to Cave Spring may well have been the most agonizing.
First, the Cougars (2-5, 5-9) were playing at home. Everybody always plays better at home. It’s just a fact. Something about familiar territory, familiar fields, familiar dugouts, all that.
Second, Pulaski’s bats had just emerged from a four-game slump and were riding a fun two-game win streak.
Third, in the words of the late great Yogi Berra, the season is getting late early. After Thursday’s game the Cougars have just three regular season games left. They played at home Friday against Hidden Valley. They will also travel to Blacksburg and to Salem before the start of the real season: the district tournament.
But arguably the most gut-wrenching part about Thursday’s joust with the Knights was that they were hanging right with them. After four-and-a-half innings each side had pushed across just four runs.
Cave Spring, many say, is the second best team in the area, second only to Northside, a team they beat 15-10 in March.
“This is a great team,” said Coach Gina Miano.
By the way Cave had also defeated RRD leader Salem, 4-3 on May 3 to hand the Spartans their first loss. So dumping the Knights would have been monstrous for Pulaski heading into the district tournament.
And they came really close.
Okay, so they had to score one in their fourth to tie things. But the fact is that they did and they were right there. Like a classic horse race they were neck and neck heading down the stretch.
It’s too bad that in games like this there’s too often an “until.”
The “until” in this case came in the form of an eight-run fifth inning that all but salted the game away for Cave Spring.
“The fifth inning killed us,” Miano said.
And it was the same old bugaboo that has eaten them alive all year: fielding errors. There were only four this game, but because they happened late in the game there may as well have been 40.
“They were costly. The errors we had scored runs. And they were sort of bone-headed errors. But they’re very fixable. It’s just a matter of being more aggressive on defense,” Miano said.
That’s not to say the Cougars couldn’t find their rally caps. Trailing 12-4 in their half of the seventh, Chelsea Golden reached base with two outs on one of two Cave Spring errors.
Jordan Chrisley followed with a double that drove in Chrisley. Sara Wright drew an unintentional intentional walk on four pitches, setting up a force play at any base. With Kelli Duncan batting Chrisley stole second on a delayed steal play and then scored on a Duncan single.
Lauren Shumate then drilled a fly ball to right that was misplayed allowing two more runs to score. Suddenly the Cougars were back in business, trailing by just four very manageable runs. However, the rally proved just a little too little and a little too late as Brooke Hundley popped up to her counterpart at shortstop to end the game.
“If we’d have avoided that one inning we hit well enough in the seventh to win the game,” Miano said. “This team doesn’t lay down. That’s what I like about them.”
Wright and Shumate provided two bright spots for the Cougars as they each belted home runs. Wright’s round-tripper was her seventh of the year. She’s aiming for 10 this season by the way. Wright finished the game with two hits in three at-bats, including two runs scored and two runs batted in.
Shumate’s homer, her second of the season, was her only hit in four tries. She finished the game with a run scored and three RBIs.
Carli Brewer went 2-for-3, which really should been a perfect night at the plate. However, leading off the seventh the senior drilled a ball down the left field line that looked to all the world like it was fair. However, the umpire ruled it a foul ball and Brewer returned to the plate where she eventually struck out swinging.
“She got robbed,” Miano said. “He called it foul but it was not foul.”
Courtney Beville also chipped in with a hit in three at-bats that included a strikeout. But it was her defensive effort that drew Miano’s praise.
“Courtney only had one walk. We asked her to get it under two and she’s doing it. She and Callie both are good about keeping the walks down. Every error makes you pitch five to seven more balls. I think our pitching is strong enough to do what we need to do,” Miano said.