RIDING THE STORM OUT: Lady Cyclones overcome rain delay to eliminate Sweetwater

Published 12:11 am Thursday, May 25, 2017

Patience was indeed a virtue for the Elizabethton softball team Wednesday evening.

Coming off a four-plus hour rain delay, the Lady Cyclones banked on an Abbi McKinney three-run home run, solid defense and pitching from Kellie Cunningham to earn a 5-2 victory over Sweetwater in the TSSAA Class AA softball statement tournament Wednesday at Starplex Field No. 2 in Murfreesboro.

The win moved Elizabethton to 37-7 on the year and continues their season into Thursday with the possibility of two elimination games. Sweetwater (20-10) was eliminated from the tournament.

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The Lady Cyclones knotted things up at 1-1 after an RBI double from center fielder Maci West. After some vital at-bats in the fifth, the third baseman broke the game open for Elizabethton with a three-run shot to center field.

Elizabethton stayed patient during the delay and that attitude carried over into the batters’ box, according to Lady Cyclones skipper Ken Hardin.

“Patience,” Hardin said about the key to the win. “We had a couple of runners on there, a couple of great at-bats. (Kira) Dillard had a great at-bat there in the fifth and walked. Allison (Riddle) moved her over then Haley (Fair) had a great at-bat, took a lot of pitches and drew a walk then Abbi comes up for the home run. If they’re not as patient as they were batting, we may be in some trouble. It takes everybody on the team to win a game like this.”

With two outs to work with, the pitch was a perfect way to get back on track, according to McKinney.

“When I got up there, I was a little nervous,” she said with a laugh. “Whenever I saw that pitch, I knew it was going to go over. It felt great coming off the bat.”

While Addie Lowe added a surge of energy to Sweetwater with her second home run in the sixth, Cunningham had the mojo flowing in the circle. The Lady Cyclones gave up two runs on four hits with two strikeouts.

Hardin added that the pitcher tends to add a “little” energy to the team.

“Kelli is the life of the team sometimes,” Hardin said with a chuckle. “(The team) has a ball with her. She’s just a very personable kid. She was singing on the bus on the way down here. She was singing louder than anybody so I knew she was OK.”

“I was a little nervous,” Cunningham said about pitching at the state tournament level. “You just have to remember it is just another game and work hard. I just went out there knowing that my defense had my back. I was pitching good during warmups. I had a feeling it was going to be a good game for us.”

The defense had its moments of success, including a couple of highlight-reel moment outs by shortstop Macie Herrmann.

“We just had to make an adjustment and come out focused,” Herrmann said. “We couldn’t let the break take us away from what we needed to do on the field. Yesterday, we weren’t confident, today we were.”

It was a complete turnaround from the night before, a sentiment shared by the entire Lady Cyclones dugout. Hardin said Wednesday showed a team that he was used to seeing.

“They were relaxed today,” Hardin said about the performance. “It’s great to be here. But it’s nerve-racking for the kids and coaches both. It is a different atmosphere. We’ve played every tournament around but I never saw them like they were last night. They were relaxed today. They had nothing to lose and that’s how you got to play.”

Wednesday marked the team’s first-ever win at the state tournament level.

“It is an honor, it feels amazing,” Herrmann said with a smile. “It’s definitely the greatest feeling ever.”

“It was crazy for us to make it down this far,” McKinney added. “We really want to make a deep run. We made it so far last year so we want to make this year count.”