Highlanders take walk-off win over Rangers in extra innings

Published 3:14 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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By Ron Marvel

Star Correspondent

The tension up in Stoney Creek Tuesday night was so thick it was practically a person; no one saved a seat for. Two longtime Carter County rivals squared off in the opening round of the District 1-A softball tournament. The Lady Rangers had the Lady Highlanders on their backsides, just begging them to stay down. The problem for the Lady Rangers is they kept getting up, again and again. When the clay finally settled, the Lady Highlanders walked away with an improbable nine-inning 11-10 win that will be talked about for years.

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The Lady Rangers would strike first as they loaded the bases after a Jill Faust walk. Mollie Buckles and Mattie Salyer would get base knocks to propel the Lady Rangers to an early 3-0 lead. Cloudland would get a run back in their half of the inning as Saharra McKinney would scamper home after Ryan Turbyfill hit a shot down the third-base line that could not be handled. The top of the second would see the Lady Rangers pick up another run off a Jill Faust triple to the left-field corner to make it 4-1, but Cloudland would respond with two runs of its own, courtesy of a McKinney triple that would plate Savannah McCoury and Bethany Sluder.

The third inning would be relatively quiet, but Unaka would get back to work in the fourth as Alisha Harrell would draw a walk followed by a Taylor Grindstaff triple to right that would catch the line and skip into foul territory. Jill Faust would stay hot, picking up another base hit, making the score 6-3. The Lady Highlanders would threaten in the bottom of the fourth, but with a runner at second and third, Harrell would steal a base hit away by making a play off a line drive from her knees. Laykin Blair would pick up an RBI in the top of the fifth off a ground ball up the middle to make it a 6-4 advantage for the Lady Rangers after five innings.

The seventh inning saw Maddie Salyer hit an RBI double to push the Lady Rangers’ advantage to 7-5. But with two outs, the Lady Highlanders would respond as McKinney, who played foil to the Lady Rangers all night, would shoot a laser to deep center to clear the bases and tie the game at seven all.

The Lady Rangers would look to put the game away in the top of the eighth as Harrell would reach on an error and Taylor would double to put runners on second and third. Harrell would scamper home as Grindstaff would hit a slow roller to second. Mollie Buckles would hit a high pop to shortstop that could not be handled, allowing Taylor to score, pushing the Lady Rangers out to a 9-7 lead. Once again down to their final out, the Highlanders would respond as Bethany Sluder would hit a hard ground ball to shortstop that caromed off the glove of Buckles, allowing two runs to score and tying the game once again at nine all, heading into the ninth.

Once again, the Lady Rangers would take the lead back as Harrell would center to single, plating Kimberly Proffitt. The Lady Rangers could have had more, but McKinney would make a nice adjustment on a ball hit to center, stranding Harrell at third base. It would be the same song, second verse, as the Lady Highlanders would trail by a run and be down to their final out in the top of the ninth. With runners at first and second, Blair would hit a ball that just snuck out of the infield, plating McCoury. Reagen Turbyfill would then deliver the decider in the form of a hard ground ball up the middle and into the grass to give the game its final 11-10 score. McKinney would lead the Lady Highlanders going 4-6 at the plate with four RBIs. Blair, Turbyfill, and Christman would chip in two hits apiece. Salyer would lead Unaka going 4-5, while Faust would pick up two hits and two RBIs. After the game, Head Lady Highlanders Coach Matt Birchfield would just be in awe of his team’s toughness. “This team showed so much heart and toughness when we needed it. We were led by our seniors tonight with Ryan Turbyfill pitching and Saharra McKinney hitting. Reagen and Laykin had some big hits as well.”

With the win, the Highlanders will advance in the tournament to take on North Greene in the winner’s bracket on Wednesday, while Unaka moves into an elimination game against University High.