By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
Nine times Lauren Thrash came to bat Tuesday night and nine times the Clarkdale leadoff hitter didn't see a pitch.
But it made little difference for the Bulldogs in their Class 2A playoff opener as they hammered visiting Puckett 14-0 and 13-5 with key contributions from Heather Harwell, Molly McLeod and Shelby Blackwell, the three players hitting right behind the senior star.
"Heather, Molly and Blackwell are going to need to hit behind her, and they have," Clarkdale interim coach Britt Bennett said as his Bulldogs (16-12) advance to host East Webster, a 12-5 and 13-8 winner against Bay Springs, in Saturday's second round.
"But yeah, she's not going to see many pitches in the playoffs."
That protection was provided early. In the five-inning opener, Harwell tripled in the first to drive in Thrash and set the tone for the Clarkdale romp. The Bulldogs scored three times in the inning as Harwell scored on a McLeod sacrifice fly and Kristen Mitchell later singled and scored on Sarah Wright's single.
The Bulldogs tacked on seven more runs in the second as the first six hitters reached. This time, Thrash was intentionally walked to load the bases and again Harwell delivered, singling to score Alex Riser. McLeod then drew a walk and Blackwell singled as well. Riser actually had two hits in the inning, driving in the seventh and final run with her second single.
Clarkdale, which had 16 hits in the first game, received hits from nine different players. Harwell led the six with multiple hits — Mitchell, Breanna Ivey, Wright, Riser and Kandi Collins — with three. She also scored three runs and drove in two. McLeod, who also earned the win in the circle, knocked in three runs without a hit.
"That's what I told them, if we hit like that we can beat anybody," Bennett said. "We had a couple booboos on defense and we'll have to clean that up."
The Wolves provided a tougher test in Game 2 as they answered Clarkdale's first inning run with one of their own. And then after the Bulldogs built a 6-1 lead in the top of the third, Puckett again pulled close with a grand slam. However, that was as close as the Wolves would get as Clarkdale scored in three of the final four innings. Also, Puckett didn't get a hit the rest of the way.
"That was good, we needed a little challenge," Bennett added. "And we responded.
"I was pleased with the effort. I talked to them (Monday) about getting that Clarkdale swagger back. We haven't had that the last couple weeks. And playoff time is my favorite time of the year; watching baseball and football games are on and we're in the playoffs. I love October."
And once again, Thrash's protection led the way for Clarkdale. Blackwell hammered a two-run home run in the third following McLeod's leadoff double. In the sixth as the Bulldogs started to pull away, Harwell doubled and McLeod and Blackwell each provided RBIs. McLeod also added a three-run double in the seventh following an RBI single from Harwell.