By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Strafford, Mo. — Timely hitting and aggressive baserunning helped propel Stafford to a 5-3 victory over Diamond Monday afternoon.
The Lady Indians notched nine stolen bases during the game, which head coach Dale Bean attributed to veteran players taking advantage of opportunities.
“We had opportunity to get extra bases, and that just comes with experience,” Bean said. “No signs, or anything like that, just some our girls have learned in the past. When they see opportunities, they take them, and they were aggressive today and got it done.”
Hayley Frank and Taylor Treat each stole three bases to lead the Lady Indians.
Frank was also 3-3 at the plate with 1 RBI and two runs scored.
For Strafford, the aggressive baserunning was a vital key, as Diamond pitcher Madison Bentley was extremely effective on the afternoon.
Utilizing velocity and location, the imposing freshman kept Strafford’s lineup off-balance, for most of the afternoon.
Bentley finished the game with seven innings, seven strikeouts, eight hits and two walks.
“[Bentley] threw a little bit harder than we’d seen the last couple of games,” Bean said. “But honestly, we haven’t played well against somebody who throws a bit harder, and we’re just trying to figure it out.”
Despite Bentley’s effectiveness, Strafford was able to take advantage of early defensive miscues and convert opportunities into runs.
A first-inning error allowed Kayley Frank to reach base for the Lady Indians and then score two batters later on a Logan Jones sacrifice fly.
For Bean, it was all part of the game plan.
“Our game plan was to get runners on, get runners over and get runners in one at a time. We executed that today, and they helped us with a few errors early that gave us a couple runs, and that was the difference in the game.”
While Strafford moved runners, Diamond utilized the long ball to keep pace on the scoreboard.
Lauryn Macy’s two-run blast in the third inning gave Lady Wildcats a 2-1 advantage; however, the lead was short-lived.
A pair of RBIs from Hayley Frank and Emma Johnson recaptured the lead for Strafford in the bottom-half of the inning, and then Taylor Dormann drove in Treat in the fourth inning to give the Lady Indians a 5-2 advantage.
Still, Diamond would not go away quietly.
In the sixth inning, Alyssa Wright sent a moon shot over the centerfield wall to cut the deficit to 5-3.
Despite the pair of home runs, Strafford pitcher Emma Johnson was able to regain her composure and grind through the late innings.
“I’ve been playing softball for a long time, and I’ve been pitching for a long time,” Johnson said. “It can shake you up every once in a while, but I try not to let it affect me too much, because I know I have a job to do out there.”
Johnson’s mental toughness was put to the test in the seventh inning.
Nursing a 5-3 lead with a runner on third and two outs, Johnson once again faced Macy in a clutch situation.
Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, the Strafford junior talked about battling through the crucial at-bat.
“I’m just trying to stay away from as many pitches down the middle as possible,” Johnson said. “I want to make sure that I play around with whatever I can with off-speed pitches and change ups and everything.”
After issuing a walk to Macy on six pitches, Johnson was able to close out the ball game on a routine grounder to second.
Johnson’s seven innings of work produced eight strikeouts, six hits and three walks.
Despite the loss, Diamond head coach Kelsey Parrish was pleased with her team’s ability to rally and have a chance to tie the game with a single swing late in the game.
The battle-tested Lady Wildcats get a short turnaround before facing Pleasant Hope — who defeated Strafford twice this season — on Tuesday for a conference championship.
“I think this is a great game to go into [the Pleasant Hope] game with,” Parrish said. “We go in as a fighter. They’ve been at the top, so what do we have to lose? They’re the ones with the bullseye, so we just play really hard and continue to take that in and grow on it.”
Varsity final: Strafford – 5, Diamond – 3
Diamond 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 — 3
Strafford 1 0 2 1 1 0 x — 5
Hits: Diamond – 6, Strafford – 8
Errors: Diamond – 4, Strafford – 0
LOB: Diamond – 5, Strafford – 6
2B: Strafford (Emma Johnson – 1, Taylor Treat – 1)
HR: Diamond (Lauryn Macy – 1, Alyssa Wright – 1)
RBI: Diamond (Macy – 2, Wright – 1), Strafford (Hayley Frank – 1, Logan Jones – 1, Emma Johnson – 1, Taylor Dormann – 1)
Madison Bentley (6.00 IP, 7K, 8H, 2BB)
Emma Johnson (7.00 IP, 8K, 6H, 3BB)
Time of game: 1:38