By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
For head coach Cary Luke and the West Lauderdale softball team, patience was the key during their playoff series against North Pike.
After dropping Game 1 7-2, the Knights rallied back to win Game 2 3-2 and Game 3 5-2 at the Richard May Complex to advance to the Class 4A South State championship series.
“We gutted it out today,” Luke said. “We had some key hits late in the game in Games 2 and 3. It was just a total team effort, I couldn't be anymore proud of my team.”
In Game 2, North Pike got things started in the third inning, as the Jaguars took advantage of West Lauderdale errors and put together two runs, finding gaps between the Knight defense.
The Knights offense was dormant until the seventh inning, when West finally came alive with its backs to the wall.
Mallory Turner led off the inning with a single, followed by another single from Sarah Lolley. After a walk to Rachel Lance, the Knights would load the bases for Abbe Bates with no outs. Bates would not disappoint either, as she laced a double to the wall, scoring two runners and tying the game for the Knights.
Pinch-hitter Breanna Sharp would finish the comeback later in the inning, lifting a sac fly to center to plate the third and deciding run for West, as the Knights evened the series at 1-1.
In game two it was much of the same for West. Two solo home runs gave the Jaguars a 2-0 lead until the bottom of the sixth inning, when patience would pay off for Luke and the Knights once again.
The Knights capitalized on walks and defensive miscues to cut the lead to 2-1, when Lolley stepped to the plate with two runners on. Just as before, West would come up big, as Lolley lifted an RBI double to left to scoring Ashley Adams from second. The throw home from the outfield got behind the catcher, allowing Ana Gilbert to score the go-ahead run, and if things couldn't go any worse for the Jaguars, another errant throw would bring Lolley all the way around the bases to put the Knights up 4-2.
West Lauderdale would add another run, as they completed the unlikely rally and advanced to the South State championship game.
“I'm telling you, you just go crazy watching the first five innings,” Luke said We just weren't doing anything. After we scored in the sixth, you think where has it been?”
What was the secret behind the two late rallies? Not even Luke knows that.
“If I could tell you what happened, I'd be a rich man,” Luke said. “A lot of people would like to know how we did that.”
Next up for West is a meeting against defending champion Newton County at home Tuesday, with a South State title on the line. Luke said he was happy to survive the series and looks forward to a battle next week against the Cougars.
“They have had a successful decade,” Luke said of Newton County. “We are not going to shock them, and they are not going to shock us. It will just be whoever gets the timely hits who will win that game.”