By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Reeds Spring, Mo. — Down a run with only four outs remaining, McDonald County utilized both long- and small-ball tactics to complete a 3-1 comeback rally at Reeds Spring Tuesday afternoon.
The Big 8 Conference matchup showcased a classic pitching duel between Reeds Spring’s Izzy Erickson and McDonald County’s Alexa Hopkins and was scoreless through four and a half innings.
Erickson helped out her own cause in the fifth inning with a double up the middle to score Tori Scobee from second.
Rita Santillan answered in the sixth for the Lady Mustangs with a two-out, solo blast to right center.
Hitless in her previous two appearances, the senior center fielder’s persistence finally paid off.
“Every pitch, you have to come with the same mentality,” Santillan said. “Hit, hit, hit and base hit, base hit. I knew my team needed me, and I wasn’t going to let them down.”
McDonald County turned to its short game in the seventh.
Whitney Kinser drew a leadoff walk, and Madeline McCall reached on an error. After Kristin Cornell’s bunt moved both runners into scoring position, another from Alexa Hopkins scored Kinser from third on a play at the plate.
When her turn at the plate arrived, Hopkins wasted little time putting the ball down.
“I just knew that, when we have runners in scoring position and it’s a tough game, you have to make a sacrifice,” Hopkins said. “It is what it is. You have to make a sacrifice for your team.”
With the Lady Mustangs up 2-1, Kaylee Cornell’s sacrifice added an insurance run with another close play at home to score McCall.
Reeds Spring threatened in the bottom of the seventh with a pair of baserunners and one out, but Hopkins turned back the Lady Wolves’ rally with a fly ball to right and a strikeout to close out the game.
Hopkins’ violent deliveries were often punctuated with audible grunts and became noticeably louder as the innings wore on and the game’s excitement took hold.
“Sometimes I get nervous in the circle,” Hopkins said. “But I know that we have a great defense, and if I miss a spot, they’re right there behind me. I was getting super pumped, and I knew that the closer we got to the end game, the more excited everyone was getting, so I was ready.”
Hopkins scattered eight hits in the game and notched five strikeouts and a pair of walks.
The sophomore right-hander’s work in the circle was matched by an overall solid performance from McDonald County’s defense.
Head coach Skyler Rawlins praised his team’s persistence.
“We struggled early, but give [Erickson] credit,” Rawlins said. “She’s a great pitcher. We just had a hard time laying off some pitches early, but we did a better job with that late in the game.”
Rawlins was also quick to point out the performance turned in by McDonald County’s defense.
“I’m proud of the way we competed,” Rawlins said. “With Lex in the circle, our defense knows they’re going to get a lot of ground balls, and they know they’re going to get a lot of work. Great defense will win us ball games, and it did again today.”
Despite the loss, Reeds Spring head coach Scott Walker found plenty of positives in the early-season test, particularly in the circle.
“[Erickson] threw great,” Walker said. “She made one mistake, and it’s a mistake I called. We struck [Santillan] out once on the exact same thing, but the hitter made an adjustment. Good athletes make adjustments.”
Erickson finished the game with a single hit allowed, 11 strikeouts and two walks. She and Brooke Davis each tallied a pair of hits at the plate for the Lady Wolves.
Next up for McDonald County (4-0) is Tuesday, Sep. 6, visit to Aurora. Reeds Spring (5-2) travels to Logan-Rogersville that same day.
Varsity final: McDonald County – 3, Reeds Spring – 1
McDonald County 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 — 3
Reeds Spring 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 — 1
Hits: McDonald County – 1, Reeds Spring – 8
Errors: McDonald County – 0, Reeds Spring – 2
LOB: McDonald County – 3, Reeds Spring – 8
Reeds Spring Pitching
Izzy Erickson (7.00 IP, 11K, 1H, 2BB, 1HBP)
McDonald County Pitching
Alexa Hopkins (7.00 IP, 5K, 8H, 2BB)
Time of game: 1:35