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Cougars Drop Nailbiter to Blacksburg

By Ben Hanneman

Anyone not emotionally drained after Blacksburg’s 12-10 softball victory over Pulaski County Friday either didn’t have a pulse or just plain didn’t care

In a must-have game for Pulaski that you just hated to see anyone lose – two middle-of-the-pack River Ridge District foes slugged it out in what would prove to be a nailbiter perfect for ESPN Classic High School – if there was such a thing.

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The Cougars actually jumped on the scoreboard first, something they haven’t done in a few games, with a run in the first. Kelli Duncan drilled a two-out single to left center. She took third on Lauren Shumate’s single up the middle and scored on an infield single by Courtney Beville.

The Bruins wrestled back the lead in the second on what has proven to be the Cougars’ Achilles heel of late: errors — three to be exact. With two outs, rightfielder Courtney Cumbee walked, took second on a passed ball and scored on a miscue at second base.

Two more misfires on the infield led to another run before Beville struck out Blacksburg’s second batter in the order to stem any further damage.

With two more runs in the third, this time on just one infield bobble, the Bruins stretched their lead to 4-1, still with over half the game remaining. In fact, they took a 6-2 lead at one point and looked to be coasting to an easy road victory.

But in softball – especially at the high school level – being at ease with a lead can sometimes be like holding a python; you just can’t ever get too comfortable.

The Cougars had chances to score early on; two big ones as a matter of fact. In the third, after Sara Wright smacked a leadoff single, Duncan legged out an infield hit. Then, Beville’s bunt stopped on a dime in the dirt about a foot in front of home plate. Catcher Hailey Porth couldn’t come up with it, though, and the Cougars had the bases filled with only one out.

However, the next two batters were retired, one by strikeout and the other on a groundout, and the scoring threat went begging.

“We have got to get people scoring when we have them on base,” Miano said.

In the fourth Chrisley drew a two-out walk and Wright was hit in the backside. Duncan then tapped a slow grounder to second for what looked to be an easy force out. But in a bang-bang play at the bag the ball popped out of Addie Graves’ glove. Wright was safe and Chrisley sprinted home.

Shumate followed with an almost identical lazy roller to second that Graves couldn’t field and the bases were loaded again. This time, though, Beville struck out swinging to end the inning.

The Bruins added one more in the sixth for a four-run lead, no doubt feeling confident being ahead. But remember that snake reference? Sure enough, the Cougars struck back, but more like a rattler than a python. Chrisley lined a double to the fence in right centerfield.

Wright was hit in the backside again, some said intentionally. Duncan then drove Chrisley home and Wright to third base with her fourth straight single. Shumate cleared the bases with a righfield double up the gap, still with nobody out.

After Beville popped up, but two more singles in a row – an infield number by Carli Brewer, and then more conventional base hits by Golden – set the table once again, bases-loaded style that is, for Callie Gregory. A heartbeat later, she single-handedly put the Cougars up 8-6 with a bases-clearing hit to right field.

But they weren’t done.

After a Blacksburg pitching change, Chrisley walked again, bringing Wright to the plate for a chance to extend the lead.

“I was thinking, ‘Just hit it out, Sara, and end this thing,’” Miano said.

She came close, depositing a double to right field, some 10 feet from the fence, scoring Gregory and Chrisley. Pulaski 10, Blacksburg 6.

Cue the tension.

Surely, Cougar nation thought, Beville would be able to get the final three outs. Surely she could put a stop to the emotional roller coaster. Please, Miano thought.

But the Bruins had other ideas. After a fly-ball out to right, the next two batters waited on Beville, drawing walks, on poor calls some said. The ninth bather, Kayla Keith, not known for her hitting necessarily, lined a single to center.

C’mon, Courtney, Miano prayed.

A slow roller to third handcuffed Shumate, scoring one run.

Okay, no harm done, Miano thought.

Then Graves singled to center to score two runs, one on a close play at the plate in which Chrisley appeared to have clearly tagged the runner in the back before she touched to plate. The umpire, however, ruled her safe, bringing Miano to the plate for a respectful conference.

“I thought she was clearly out. And that would have been a big out for us right there. That was his (the umpire) call, but he had a crazy strike zone from the beginning,” Miano said.

Nonetheless 10-9 Blacksburg, but still manageable.

Cue Gregory and a fresh arm.

Out number two came on an easy fly ball to Golden at second. One to go and the Cougars’ two-game losing streak would be over.

Cue Hailey Porth, cue a home run – a three-run shot to and just like that at 12-10 the Cougars were no doubt feeling like a peasant family whose prize ox has just been gored.

In the seventh, which may as well have been the 14th for all the drama, Shumate led off with a single, sparking rally hopes. Those hopes were dashed, though, when Shumate was cut down on a planned delayed steal. The final two batters were erased on a ground out to third and a fly ball to left.

“You take those errors away, you win the inning. Those scored runs,” Miano summed up. “We had some tough calls, but the truth of it is we didn’t play well enough defensively to win the game.”

Were there any emotions you did not experience today, coach?

After pausing to think for what probably seemed an eternity, Miano looked up wearily and said, “No. You talk about a roller coaster! We’re just inconsistent all over right now.”

And it won’t get any easier. The Cougars are scheduled to travel Tuesday to face the undefeated Salem Spartans.

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