Lady Panthers edge Quitman 2-1 in extra-inning classic

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On an idyllic evening for softball, the Alba-Golden Lady Panthers defeated the Quitman Lady Bulldogs 2-1 in eight innings of excellent competition. The game was often a textbook example of solid fundamentals, timely hitting, superior defense and skilled pitching.

Alba-Golden’s Bralee Littlejohn and Quitman’s Alexis O’Neal each went the distance. Littlejohn gave up five hits, one walk and recorded five strikeouts. O’Neal surrendered eight hits, one walk and recorded three strikeouts.

The hurlers were locked in the whole night. They consistently placed excellent pitches in and just out of the strike zone. A predominant number of outs were produced by pop-ups or fly balls. In a game as closely contested as this, giving up only one unintentional walk each illustrates the control each pitcher exercised all night.

Following a resounding rendition of the National Anthem by Alba-Golden’s announcer, coach and teacher Bobby Wells, Quitman was set down in order. In the bottom of the first, Lady Panther Ashlyn Rogers looped a ball into short left field for a single. She stole second, but the Panthers could not bring her home.

Lady Bulldog cleanup hitter Kendal Wiley provided fireworks to start the second. After working to a full count, Wiley crushed a shot to deep right-center field. Lady Panther centerfielder Rogers took two steps toward the centerfield fence and stopped. It was clear that this ball was far beyond the fences.

Lady Bulldog Tyann Harris advanced to second base after a walk and stolen base, but was stranded there to close the top half of the inning. Quitman had taken the lead 1-0.

Despite a lead-off single by Kalli Wright on a ball through the left side, Alba-Golden’s offense could not answer in the second. In the third Alba-Golden was set down in order as Quitman’s O’Neal found her rhythm.

The third inning produced two defensive gems. In the top of the third, with a Quitman runner on first, Alba-Golden’s catcher Grace Bizzell picked the runner off first. In the bottom of the inning, the Lady Bulldogs defense produced back-to-back defensive highlights. Quitman catcher Lexie Wilson moved out as if on fire to catch a pop-up midway down the first base line, while second baseman Lindsey Hornaday fielded a screaming one-hopper to close the inning.

Quitman stranded two runners in the top of the fourth. Wiley reached on an intentional walk (she would receive three intentional free passes on the night). Shelby Hayes stroked a ball through the gap in right-center for a double, which pushed Wiley to third. Littlejohn then got Madison Jacobs on a fly-ball to left field and Harris on a soft liner to the shortstop ending the threat.

It looked as though the home side was gearing up for some runs in the bottom of the fourth. Lady Panther Macie Pendergrass rocked the first pitch of the inning for a single. Littlejohn reached on a walk. The Lady Panthers executed a double steal to put the runners at second and third with no outs. There they would stay. O’Neal got Wright on a liner, Bizzell on a swinging strike out and Lauren Crump on a fly ball to center.

Quitman could not make use of Maddy Whitehurst’s one-out liner into right, which had given them a baserunner in the top of the fifth. Littlejohn retired O’Neal and Hornaday to close the top half.

Lady Panther right fielder Laynie Culp started the rally which would tie the game. She slapped a hard shot through the left side leading off the bottom of the fifth. After a Kylie Kennedy fly-out, Rogers put down an excellent bunt, which sent Culp to second. Kayli Cover stepped up and placed a double in the gap to left-center, scoring Culp.

Pendergrass reached first on an infield single as she beat the throw at first. With runners at the corners, Alba-Golden was hoping to take the lead. A sharply hit ball to third was knocked down by Quitman third baseman Reiny Luman. Her long, strong throw just nipped Pendergrass at first in a close play. The Alba-Golden rally was over.

Quitman’s Madalyn Spears slapped the first pitch of the sixth inning down the left field line for a double. An intentional walk to Wiley put two on with no outs. Hayes stepped in and hit a hard ground ball to short. Covey fielded the ball and caught Spears on a tag between second and third. The Lady Panthers almost had a double play at second but fumbled the relay. Quitman left two on in the top of the sixth.

Alba-Golden went down in order in the sixth and seventh innings. Kennedy provided some excitement in the bottom of the seventh with a well-hit drive to deep centerfield that was hauled in by Spears.

Quitman put two runners on in the top of the seventh. Wilson reached on an Alba-Golden throwing error and ended up at second on the play. A Whitehurst bunt then pushed her to third. A short fly ball to right may have scored Wilson, but she was not sent. The throw in to the infield after Culp’s catch indicated it was probably a wise decision as Culp’s throw was on the mark.

Hornaday then hit a little pop up that fell between home and the pitcher’s mound and became an infield hit. The Lady Panther defense seemed frozen by the play as the pitcher, catcher and third baseman all failed to field the ball. The Lady Bulldogs had runners at the corners with two outs. Spears battled to a full count before Littlejohn got her on a swinging third strike.

The game went into the eighth. A breeze kicked up and blew from right to left field, as if the game was about to change. After another intentional walk to Wiley, Quitman went down in order, setting up the Lady Panthers for an extra inning win.

O’Neil got Covey and Pendergrass to ground out to start the inning. Littlejohn stepped up and hit the first pitch between third and short for a single. She advanced to second on a passed ball (the only miscue by either catcher on the night).

Wright stroked a ground ball through the right side of the infield. Littlejohn was running and received the green light from the third base coach.

The throw from right field to the plate was directly on line to the plate, but high. Quitman catcher Wilson had to stretch to get a mitt on the throw, and Littlejohn scored.

Alba-Golden won, 2-1.

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