In stark contrast to the promise of Tuesday’s win, Clinton’s Lady Dark Horses lost their footing in Thursday’s non-conference game against the Lady Crusaders of Harrells Christian Academy, ending with a 13-6 loss.
Errors in Clinton’s consistency sank the team’s optimistic first inning lead, and despite a solidifying home-team offensive in endgame plays, the deft bat-to-ball of the Lady Crusaders proved too much for the rocky momentum of the Lady Dark Horses.
The potential of the first inning was tantalizing. The confidence of a strikeout and two fly catches in the initial top carried Clinton to a dominating 3-0 lead entering the second, driven by the skillful hitting of batters Lauryn Moore, Tori Johnson and Hailee Stone.
It was a lead that would prove short-lived.
HCA’s Kyra Gensel blew the game wide open following the strikeout of their first batter, hitting a triple and opening the door for hard-hitters to quickly load the bases in the top of the fifth. The runs quickly accumulated thereafter for a sudden 5-3 Harrells advantage, and what was looking like a secure lead for the Lady Dark Horses rapidly dissolved in the bottom of the fifth as their offensive front unsuccessfully went up against the Lady Crusaders’ pitching and skilled infield defense.
Although the difference in score entering the third was manageable for the home team at 5-3 and two outs in the top appearing promising, third batter MacKenzie Harrell was able to take first base and once more start loading the bases in the top. While she was the only run of the inning for HCA — scoring her second personal run of the game — the team’s strategy proved influential.
Now up at bat and off-kilter, Clinton was once more thwarted by HCA’s cohesive infield team for a trio of third base tag-outs, bringing the top of the fourth to a now rocky 6-3 score. The tone of the game was set; the visiting Lady Crusaders stacked runs gradually over the next three innings, and despite a promising second-base steal by Clinton’s Johnson in the bottom of the sixth, HCA’s second baseman tagged out the next Dark Horse needed to complete the run.
Opening the top of the seventh at 11-3, victory for Clinton was now remote. The divide sharpened as Lady Crusaders Talina Giles and Brenna King took home. At the bat, however, a second wind brewed for CHS; second batter Keona Hill broke the runless streak first, followed by Moore and Markaysia Hobbs. The game folded to a closer score of 13-6; behind them were loaded bases, a possible streak stymied only by a third-base tag out by HCA.
“They’re quick, and it’s hard to defend against that,” Dark Horses Coach Todd Slater complimented following the game. He noted points of improvement for future games. “We got West Bladen (Friday) and East Bladen on Monday, two very good, sound teams. We need to put that defense tonight and the hitting from Tuesday together.”
The stark contrast between the game itself and prospects of the first and final innings was noted.
“We had that first good inning where we put three on them and I was really looking forward, because I thought we would be able to hit that ball and we just kind of fell silent,” he said. “Those bats came back alive. We need those bats and we need that defense all game long.”
Harrells Christian Academy, now 2-4 overall and 0-2 in Four County Conference play, was to travel to Friday to play rival Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville.
Now 1-5 overall and 1-2 conference, Clinton was traveling south Friday to meet West Bladen on their home turf.
Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at [email protected]