AREA SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT: Lady Bearcats finish area runners-up, advance to North Regional

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Cullman’s Emma Claire Wilson squares up an RBI single during the Lady Bearcats’ 6-3 win over Hartselle Friday. (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

HARTSELLE, Ala. – It was a long and wild night in Hartselle Friday. Cullman returned to Sparkman Park in Hartselle to continue its run through the 6A, Area 14 Tournament and after defeating the Lady Tigers in the winner’s bracket 6-3 early in the afternoon, Hartselle eliminated Muscle Shoals to stay alive and set up a rematch with Cullman in the area championship game. The Lady Tigers rallied from a 7-run deficit to come from behind and beat the Lady Bearcats 13-11 in game one, forcing another late-night area championship matchup.

Cullman and Hartselle hit the field once again for a final, five inning game just before 11 p.m. and the Lady Tigers carried their late momentum from game two right into game three. Hartselle put 10 runs on the board in the top of the first to put the ‘Cats in a deep hole early and even though they managed to chip away in the second and third, Hartselle led by 11 after four innings. That’s when the Lady Bearcats were hit with another delay, but this time it wasn’t weather. Due to the AHSAA’s Suspension of Play policies, the game was paused after four innings late Friday night and scheduled to resume at 11 a.m. Saturday. After play resumed Saturday morning, the Lady Tigers were able to hold on and defeat the ‘Cats 16-5 in five innings to claim the area title. Both Cullman and Hartselle will compete at the North Regional Tournament in Florence Wednesday.

Cullman 6 – Hartselle 3 (Winner’s Bracket)

After waiting out a rain delay that hit in the fourth inning, the Lady Bearcats knocked off Muscle Shoals 4-0 Thursday night to advance through the winner’s bracket and take on top-seeded Hartselle Friday afternoon. Cullman plated a pair of runs in the first to take an early lead and tacked on two more in the fifth to pull away and defeat the Lady Tigers 6-3, clinching a spot in the area tournament championship game and the North Regional Tournament in Florence next week.

Haley Shannon led off the top of the first with a single up the middle and Chalea Clemmons lifted a double over the left fielder’s head to put a pair of runners in scoring position for Savannah Davis. Davis put the Lady Bearcats on the board with an RBI single into right field and Emma Claire Wilson made it a 2-0 game going into the bottom half of the inning with an RBI single of her own.

The Lady Tigers managed to score on a passed ball and cut the lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the first but after a scoreless second inning, Cullman got the run back in the top of the third. Faith Guest was hit by a pitch and Clemmons was intentionally walked to give the ‘Cats a pair of runners and Carlie Burnham ripped an RBI single into left field to score Guest and stretch the lead to 3-1.

After a scoreless third inning, a solo homerun from Hartselle trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth but the Lady Bearcats responded in the fifth. After Faith Guest was hit by another pitch and Clemmons was put on once again, Davis drew a walk to load the bases and with two outs on the board, Shana Guest lifted a double deep into center field that hit off the top of the fence and tacked on two more runs for Cullman to make it a 5-2 game.

The Lady Tigers scored another run on a passed ball in the bottom of the sixth to make it a 2-run game going into the final frame. Wilson drilled an RBI single up the middle to give the Lady Bearcats a 6-3 advantage in the top of the seventh and Clemmons retired the first three batters she faced in the bottom of the seventh to wrap up a 6-3 win for Cullman.

Wilson (two hits) and Guest (double) each drove in a pair of runs in the win, Shannon finished with a pair of hits and Davis and Burnham each posted a hit and an RBI for Cullman as well. Cullman will be in Florence next Wednesday to compete at this year’s North Regional Tournament.

Hartselle 13 – Cullman 11 (9 innings) (Area Championship Game One)

The ‘Cats went back and forth with Hartselle in a tight area title game until the sixth inning when Cullman’s bats took over and plated six runs to give the Lady Bearcats a commanding lead. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, the Lady Tigers responded with an 8-run inning to take a 1-run lead going into the bottom of the seventh. That’s when Olivia Britton launched a solo shot out of center field to tie the game and keep Cullman’s chances alive in extra innings.

However, Hartselle was able to plate three runs in the top of the ninth to take a 3-run lead into the bottom half of the inning and wound up defeating the Lady Bearcats 13-11 to force another area championship matchup.

Just like in their first tilt with the Lady Tigers earlier today, the Lady Bearcats struck first and took an early lead. Chalea Clemmons singled on a line drive up the middle to put a runner on with two out and a few pitches later, Savannah Davis blasted one the fence in left field to put Cullman on top 2-0. Emma Claire Wilson kept the inning going with a double into left field and Carlie Burnham drove an RBI single up the middle to score Wilson and make it a 3-0 game going into the second inning.

Clemmons worked through a spotless top of the second on just eight pitches and the Lady Bearcats threatened to add to their lead in the bottom half of the inning but grounded into a couple of fielder’s choices to end the inning leading 3-0. A pair of walks put runners on base for Hartselle in the top of the third and a 2-run single cut the Cullman lead to 3-2. A single from Burnham was the only offense the Lady Bearcats found in the bottom of the third, but Clemmons struck out three of the four hitters she faced in the top of the fourth to put Cullman back at the plate.

The ‘Cats couldn’t get anything going in their half of the fourth and the Lady Tigers threatened to score in the top of the fifth, but a pair of ground balls got Cullman out of the jam with its lead intact. Clemmons fanned two more batters in the top of the sixth and the Lady Bearcats returned to the plate with a chance to add to their lead before the final frame.

Shana Guest and Olivia Britton each drew a walk to put a pair of runners on the base paths and Haley Shannon lined an RBI single into left field to plate a run and stretch the lead to 4-2. Faith Guest tacked another run onto the lead with an RBI single into right field and with runners on the corners, Clemmons launched a double into left field to plate two more runs and make it a 7-2 game. Davis kept things going with an RBI double into right field that made it 8-2 and Wilson stayed hot with another RBI single into left that made it 9-2 after six.

The Cullman defense went back out onto the field needing just three more outs to secure the area title, but they didn’t come easily, and the Lady Tigers answered the Lady Bearcats’ big inning with one of their own. A 2-run homer cut the lead to 9-4 early in the inning and a couple of passed balls, a wild pitch and an error allowed Hartselle to bring the lead all the way down to two. An RBI single made it a 9-8 game with two outs and the Lady Tigers took their first lead of the game with an RBI double that made it 10-9 going into the bottom of the seventh.

After a devastating top of the seventh for Cullman, Olivia Britton led off the bottom half of the inning with a solo bomb over the fence in center field to tie the game at 10. The ‘Cats were able to get two more runners on base and give themselves a chance to win it in the seventh but couldn’t bring any more runs across the plate and we went to the eighth knotted at 10.

Wilson relieved Clemmons in the seventh and forced Hartselle to go three up, three down in the top of the eighth. Wilson then drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the eighth and a bunt by Burnham put the winning run at second with one out, but a pair of strikeouts ended the inning with the game still tied at 10. Hartselle led off the top of the ninth with a triple to put a runner on third base and one pitch later, the Lady Tigers pulled ahead 11-10 with an RBI single. Another RBI single and an error put two more runs on the board for Hartselle and the Lady Bearcats were down to their final three outs trailing by three.

Shannon was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Faith Guest drove a double down the left field line to put runners at second and third with the tying run at the plate. Clemmons was intentionally walked to load up the bases Davis drove a sacrifice fly into left field to score Shannon and make it a 13-11 game but a flyout in the next at bat ended Cullman’s chances of a late rally and secured a wild, 13-11 win for Hartselle.

Davis (two hits) led the ‘Cats with four RBIs in the loss and Burnham (one RBI) posted a team-high three hits. Clemmons (two hits) drove in a pair of runs, Wilson (two hits) finished with an RBI and Faith Guest (two hits) and Shannon (one hit) each added an RBI for Cullman as well.

Hartselle 16 – Cullman 5 (Area Championship Game Two) (Saturday)

The Lady Tigers led off the top of the first with a triple and a double into center field three pitches later gave them a 1-0 lead. An RBI single added another run to the lead, making it a 2-0 game and Hartselle drilled another base hit into left field to stretch its lead to 3-0. Two more singles allowed two more Lady Tigers to cross the plate, making it 5-0. A hit batter and a walk led to another Hartselle run and after another hit, an error and a passed ball, the ‘Cats found themselves down 9-0. Another error brought another run home for the Lady Tigers and Cullman went into the bottom half of the first trailing 10-0.

A sacrifice fly put another run on the board for Hartselle in the top of the second and a pair of RBI singles made it a 13-0 game, but the Lady Bearcats found some offense in their half of the inning.

Carlie Burnham reached first base on an error and three pitches later, Shana Guest ripped a single into left field to drive and her and get Cullman on the board. After another single from Olivia Britton, Taylor Au singled up the middle to bring in another run and trim the lead to 13-2 going into the third.

The Lady Tigers plated one run in the top of the third on a fielder’s choice but the ‘Cats got it back and then some in the bottom half of the inning. Chalea Clemmons drove an RBI double into left field to make it 14-3 and Savannah Davis put an RBI single up the middle to cut the lead to 14-4. An RBI single from Burnham made it a 14-5 game after three but Hartselle was able to string some more hits together in the top of the fourth to pull ahead 16-5. That’s when the game was stopped around 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning and scheduled to resume at 11 a.m.

Once play resumed Saturday, The Lady Tigers went down in order in the top of the fifth and Cullman went back to the plate needing two runs to extend the game but was only able to get one runner on base and ended up falling 16-5 in five innings.

Both Hartselle and Cullman will be in Florence next Wednesday to compete in this year’s North Regional Tournament.

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