Joplin plays small-ball to down Hillcrest in extras

The Joplin Lady Eagles managed to score four times in the eighth inning on Monday while hitting the ball out of the infield only once – turning a 2-2 tie into a 6-2 lead and eventual win over Hillcrest in Springfield.
 
Coming in poised to steal a victory from a young Hillcrest (6-6 overall) squad, the Lady Eagles sent seven hitters to the plate in the deciding frame – three of which put down well-executed bunts and forced bad throws to ultimately lead to the four-run inning.
 
“I thought we did what we needed to do,” Joplin head coach Kirk Harryman said about his team's play in extra innings. “It's something we want to do and take pride in. Obviously, it was big there in that inning.”

PHOTOS: HILLCREST VS. JOPLIN
 
The offensive breakthrough was a well-deserved reward for Joplin (5-7) starting pitcher Aydan Perrin, who held the Lady Hornets to two runs (both unearned) on five hits through eight strong innings of work.
 
Perrin issued just one walk in the contest – a testament to her outstanding ability to command the strike zone.
 
“She's not overpowering and she's not going to strike out a ton of girls, she's going to let our defense work,” Harryman said of Perrin. “When she's throwing strikes, we typically have a chance to be competitive and in ballgames.”


 
Despite Perrin's impressive outing, the Lady Eagles found themselves trailing on the scoreboard by a count of 2-1 in the sixth before senior cleanup hitter Lauren Rader connected off Perrin for a game-tying home run on the first pitch she saw.
 
“I was really glad to tie it up for my team because hitting is contagious,” said Rader. “Once I hit it, then someone else can take over.”
 
Her teammates had her back from there.
 
After both teams came up empty in the seventh to set up extra innings, Rader earned a leadoff walk to begin the frame – leaving it up to the latter half of the batting order to cash in big.
 
“The top of our lineup has been carrying us a lot this season,” Harryman said. “It's kind of nice to see girls from [fifth in the batting order] on down come through and do some things really well to help us win a ballgame.”
 
Two of the four Lady Hornets' errors on the night came in the top of the eighth – coming in the form of errant throws to first after fielded bunts.
 
“Our record could be very different right now,” Hillcrest head coach Josh McKee said, who is manning a Lady Hornets roster filled with sophomores and freshmen. “When we lose by just getting beat, I'm fine with that, but when we make little mistakes and mental errors that cost, that's when I have a problem. I just felt like we didn't focus as much as we should have the entire game.”
 
A tough loss was tagged to junior pitcher Caitlyn Blackburn, who struck out ten Lady Eagles but allowed nine hits, including the home run by Rader.
 
“That's the thing in softball, one little mistake can be a huge mistake,” added McKee. “But I'm very proud of her. She competed and pitched really well. She's gritty out there and she's a warrior.”
 
Joplin, a state semifinal qualifier from last year, returns home to face McDonald County on Tuesday. Hillcrest takes on Rogersville on Thursday.

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