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Softball struggles early, but pulls it together for 7-6 win

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By Kristin Beck

It was rough at times, but the Lady Panthers were able to make enough plays when the game was on the line to win, 7-6, over Walton-Verona Tuesday in their home opener at Lady Panther Field.

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Lady Panthers head coach Dennis Hawkins said he would like to “burn the film and start fresh tomorrow” after watching his team commit at least three throwing errors and have a number of passed balls allow runners to move around the bases. Starting pitcher Sarah Hawkins also was not herself, throwing a number of pitches high and in the dirt, and even hitting a batter for the first time in probably five years, Dennis Hawkins said.

“We practice that every day: throwing the ball, catching the ball, and I didn’t think we would have that much trouble throwing the ball, but it happens, I reckon,” he said. “I guess everybody was nervous; everybody was anxious.”

It took some big plays late in the game to lift the Lady Panthers over their errors. Down 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth, freshman Jenah Roberts and senior Kayla Williamson, who sat out the beginning of the game due to a neck injury coming into the game, both reached on bunt singles. With two outs, senior Mackenzie Ogden drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases for her cousin, senior Kelsey Ogden. The senior third baseman stepped up to the plate and hit a hard grounder down the third base line to score two runs and put her team up, 7-6.

In the top of the seventh, Hawkins walked the first batter, but struck out the second and third. She walked the fourth batter, putting runners at first and second. Walton-Verona’s Abigail Wassem hit a slow roller back to Hawkins at the mound, but the throw to first was too late. But, showing her awareness of the situation, senior first baseman Michaela Culver came up firing toward home, as junior catcher Mackenzi Hawkins tagged out the runner attempting to tie the game to end the game.

“They stepped up, and they showed they could do it when it came down to the end,” Dennis Hawkins said.”

Carroll County jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Kelsey Ogden singled to center and scored on a Lady Bearcat error in left field. Hawkins followed with an RBI double to center. But Walton-Verona answered with two runs in the top of the second and another in the top of the third. In the bottom of the third, Mackenzie Ogden reached on a walk and stole second base. Kelsey Ogden hit a ground ball past shortstop and advanced to second on the throw in to the pitcher. With two runners on, Culver laid down an RBI bunt single. The throw to attempt to pick off Kelsey Ogden at third was wild, allowing her to score and give Carroll County the lead back, 4-3. With bases loaded, senior Brittany Yocum hit a fly ball to right field that was dropped, allowing Culver to score, 5-3.

Culver subbed in for Hawkins at the mound in the top of the fifth. Hawkins sat out against Grant County due to medical reasons, Dennis Hawkins said. She was medically cleared to play, but was still having chest pains and a rapid heart beat. Because of that, the head coach said he wanted to give her a short rest.

Unfortunately, Walton-Verona jumped on Culver, as Hannah Thacker doubled to right center, and Julann Ginn drew a walk. A passed ball scored a run, prompting Hawkins to switch back his starting pitcher and first baseman. The Lady Bearcats called a double steal to tie the game and took the lead off an RBI single to center field, 6-5.

Hawkins was happy with his team’s ability to play small ball and lay down bunts when they were asked to do so. “Take nothing away from that pitcher because that’s probably one of the best pitchers we’re going to see,” he said. “We’re lucky to get the win with the way we played, but like I said, I hope this is the worst game we play this year. But a win’s a win and can’t take nothing away from Walton-Verona. They came to beat us, and I’m glad we didn’t let them. But we were trying to beat ourselves there for a little while; but we straightened it out and caught the win and started playing like a team and made some plays.”

Hawkins struck out nine batters in five and two-thirds innings, despite not being 100 percent. Head coach Hawkins said she brought it in the last two innings. “She had a lot more fire in her pitch and in her step, so evidently she caught a second wind or got to feeling better.”

The Lady Panthers are off to a good start at 2-0. They will travel to Eminence Thursday before returning home Friday against South Oldham.