Lady Cats win with pitching, defense and timely hitting

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

April 2, 2008 - The Sulphur Springs Lady Cats have made a habit of scoring in the first inning of their district games, having done so in four straight.

Against Paris on Tuesday, the Lady Cats waited until their last at-bat to score, but it was still enough.

Behind a stellar pitching performance from sophomore Taylor Clifton which was backed up by three outstanding defensive plays and clutch hitting from the middle of the batting order, the Lady Cats edged Paris 1-0 at Lady Cat Park.

The Lady Cats improved to 5-1 in District 11-4A, 18-7 overall, while Paris fell to a hard-luck 0-6.

The game was scoreless heading into the bottom of the sixth inning as Paris righthander Julie Essary had limited the Lady Cats to just four baserunners through the first five frames. But, with two outs in the sixth, SSHS junior Katie Dodd lined an Essary pitch off the left field wall for a double.

Dodd's hit missed being a home run by about two feet, but it didn't matter, because junior Brittani Crawford immediately brought her home with the game-winning, run-scoring base hit to right field.

It was Crawford's seventh RBI in six district games, tying her with Dodd for the team lead. Crawford reached base all three times against Essary with a second-inning walk and a fourth-inning single, raising her district batting average to an even .500 (8-for-16).

While the single run may seem like the play of the game, it took some great pitching from Clifton, who went all seven innings and gave up just three hits and one walk while fanning five, and outstanding defensive plays to make it count.

"Taylor was doing everything right, hitting her spots," said SSHS head coach David Carrillo. "She was very composed out there, and that was one the best things I've seen. Even when she got in trouble early, we were able to get out of it. One of the best things is that she's composed and battling."

Clifton was able to work out of deep trouble twice - including the first inning.

Paris' Macy Allen led off the game with a single and went to third on a throwing error and sacrifice bunt. Then, with one out, Essary hit a hot grounder to Mac Morgan at third. Morgan looked at Allen, then threw to Dodd at first to get Essary out. Allen broke for home on Morgan's throw, so Dodd relayed it to catcher Maurie Lewis in plenty of time to tag out the runner to complete the double play and get out of the inning.

Then, in the top of the sixth, the Lady Cats made two heads-up plays to keep Paris off the scoreboard. The inning opened with Paris' Raci Lancaster blooping a ball behind first base, but SSHS second baseman Amanda McGowin made a full-out, diving catch on the rim of the infield to rob Lancaster of a base hit. That came into play when Gabby Parker walked and Allen reached on an infield hit to put runners on first and second with one out.

The next batter, Darby Pierce, then hit a ball between third and short. Crawford, at shortstop, made the stop and tried to tag Parker as she ran by, but the runner knocked the ball out of Crawford's glove. The ball rolled toward third base where Morgan picked it up, and when Parker overslid the bag, Morgan tagged her out for the inning's second out.

Clifton then induced an inning-ending grounder from the next batter.

"Again, making the little plays count," Carrillo said. "The girls played great defense tonight.

"We struggled a little bit at the plate, but those nights are going to happen. It's just good we were able to overcome that stuff with a win tonight. I kept telling our girls to be patient, be patient, don't get rattled. We hung in there and made the plays when we had to."

The Lady Cats host Texas High (2-3) at 6 p.m. Friday with a playoff berth possibly in the balance. A Sulphur Springs win over Texas High, coupled witha Lindale victory over T-High today (in a make-up of last night's rainout) and a North Lamar win over Mount Pleasant will secure a playoff berth for Sulphur Springs.

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