Lady Cougars Fall in Elite Eight at State
The Rector Lady Cougar softball team's stellar season ended Friday at Mountain Home, as the girls fell to Concord in the Elite Eight of the 1A State Softball Tournament. The girls in blue had advanced to the third round with a first-round bye, and a run-rule 10-0 win over Lead Hill the previous day, but drew the potent Lady Pirates in the quarterfinals.
Riding a 30-plus game record, and a top seed, Concord rolled into the quarterfinals with an easy victory after also earning a bye in round one. Living up their reputation early, they got a first inning homerun and a lead on Rector's Maddie Hobbs, one they would never relinquish.
The Lady Cougars struggled against the Concord pitching, and Pirate defense, going down in order in the first three innings, despite a drive to the centerfield fence by Sawyer Hendrix. Meanwhile, Hobbs settled down and held Concord scoreless in the bottom of the second, although the Lady Pirates added two more in the home half of the third.
The Rector girls went quietly in the top of the fourth, with Concord adding an insurance run in the home half of the inning. Hobbs took care of business in the home half of the inning, as the score remained at 5-0.
Mylesa Gant went down looking to start the fifth, with Hobbs following with a blistering single past the pitcher's circle and into right-center field. With one out, and one one, Ellis smacked a single to centerfield and advanced Hobbs to second. Shianne Rients stood-in and had a strong at-bat, drawing the walk and loading the bases with Lady Cougars.
But, following a timeout the Lady Pirates re-grouped and sat the bottom of the order down to end the threat. In the bottom of the inning Hobbs got a pop-fly out to Shianne Rients in foul territory, another fly to Hendrix in center and a ground-out to Ellis as the Lady Pirates went one-two-three.
Hoping to continue the hitting of the last inning, lead-off batter Colbie Robinson was up first in the top of the sixth, but failed to reach base once again. Catcher Alexis McKnight went down for the second out of the inning, with Hendrix called out looking to end the frame.
Down to their last three outs, the Lady Cougars took the field for the bottom of the sixth. The first batter popped-up to Ellis for the first out, then the flood gates opened. Working a combination of bunts for hits, delay-steal bunts and savvy base running, the Lady Pirates pushed to 6-0, then 7-0.
With the bases loaded, and still only one out, the Lady Cougars mishandled the ball allowing three more runs to score—ending the game by virtue of the 10-run rule which is in effect after the fifth.
Afterward, Coach David Hendrix noted the early homerun was key.
“You can't spot them a run--not with teams like that,” he offered.
Coach Hendrix noted it's difficult facing one of the top pitchers in the state, but felt his team made a good showing.
“We had a couple of base hits, and then Sawyer hit one up against the wall that could have went out and the girl made a good play,” he added. “You just tip your hats and move on.”
Throughout the season the Lady Cougars have relied on a cool approach to adversity, allowing them to advance to the Elite Eight. Coach Hendrix noted the late-game issues were not characteristic of his team, but added that playing this caliber of talent can bring out the worse in a squad.
“It was a five to nothing game, we played five and a half good innings and gave them all they wanted and then we just—well, good teams will make you unravel like that,” he offered. “And if you're going to throw the ball it around like that—like I said, give them all the credit We tip our hats to them and go on.”
Despite the lopsided score, Lady Cougar senior righthander Hobbs was strong in the circle for the majority of the contest. As Hendrix is well aware, her spot in the lineup is going to be hard to fill in years to come.
“Maddie she's our workhorse on the mound and she's going to be tough to replace. We've got some younger kids that are really good, but her composure and things like that are going to be hard to replace,” he added. “And, Haleigh (Ellis) has made play-after-play for us this year at second—and our seniors got our two hits today--that pretty much says it.”
Much to no one's surprise, the Lady Pirates advanced through the bracket to this weekend's championship game and will play Taylor for the title at Benton.