Blistering the ball: Cotten overcomes injury to pitch NH to playoff win
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

May 9, 2006 - MOUNT PLEASANT - The name of the game is softball, but for North Hopkins pitcher KayLee Cotten on Monday, it was dodgeball.

Cotten, who persevered through an open blister on her pitching hand, was able to dodge trouble all night, working out of jams in virtually every inning to lead the Lady Panthers to a 7-0 victory over Maud in the Class A, Region II quarterfinals.

The victory sets up the Lady Panthers (21-4) in the regional semifinals against the winner between Collinsville and Ector, which are playing this week. The semifinal game or series will be played next week, said NH head coach Jim Westbrook.

Cotten allowed just four hits, but gave up five walks and hit two batters - much of that wildness was attributed to the blister on her index finger which burst during the game. Still, when it mattered most, she was able to rely on her defense to get out of trouble.

The Lady Panthers turned a pair of double plays - including one with the bases loaded to get out of the fifth inning unscathed - and did not commit an error.

"The defense did a really good job backing me up. They saved the game and made me look good," Cotten said. "I got a blister because I haven't practiced pitching in a while, and it popped during the game. Then I had to get it off which really was hurting."

Maud's defense didn't do the same for pitcher Brittany Stewart. The Lady Cardinals (12-14) committed five errors, leading to five unearned runs.

North Hopkins was solid at the plate. The Lady Panthers used the opening given them by Maud by combining six hits with two walks, five stolen bases, three doubles and three sacrifices to score their runs.

After a scoreless first inning, the Lady Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when senior Katy Williams walked, went to third on Elizabeth McPherson's single, and scored on when Jessica Harry's pop was mishandled. Williams had two hits, two RBI and scored three runs.

North Hopkins then broke the game open in the third with four runs. Ashley Wilson walked and Cotten reached on error before Williams drove a double to the right field gap to score them both. Chastin Smiddy reached on another error, then both Williams and Smiddy scored on Ashly Hooten's infield grounder and McPherson's double to left. McPherson finished with a pair of hits.

"Our hitting has picked up this year, because defense has always been our strong point," Hooten said. "We knew if we scored some runs early, we could stick it out."

They did, especially in the later innings after Cotten's blister broke open.

In the fourth, Maud loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a hit batter with one out, but Cotten induced a pop fly and ground ball to get out of the inning.

The fifth inning, though, was when the Lady Panthers pulled their biggest Houdini trick. Maud loaded the bases on three straight singles with none out. NH catcher Maegan Baxter made a nice catch of a foul pop for the first out, then Cotten fielded a comebacker to the mound and immediately threw home to Baxter, who stepped on the plate for one out then fired a throw to Williams at first to complete the inning-ending twin killing.

"I think we helped pick KayLee up," said Wilson. "I know she was hurt, but she kept it together and came through for us. We wanted to do the same for her."

The Lady Panthers turned a second double play the next inning when shortstop Chastin Smiddy snagged a line drive and doubled a runner off first.

Meanwhile, North Hopkins added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings. In the sixth, Cayla Newkirk walked, moved to third on Wilson's single, and came around on Cotten's RBI grounder. In the seventh, Williams reached on an error and scored on another Maud miscue.

The victory puts the Lady Panthers in the third round of the playoffs - as far as they have ever been, Westbrook said.

"These girls are focused. We're working hard, and they're playing hard," Westbrook said. "They're playing really good defense and hitting the ball - I think we're peaking at the right time."

Notes: Collinsville, North Hopkins' likely next opponent, is ranked No. 2 in the state by the Texas Girls Coaches Association. ... Maud did not have a senior on the team. ... NH freshman Chastin Smiddy had a pair of sacrifice bunts.

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