Friday, April 15, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot softball stays perfect in East

Leader sportswriter

The Lady Panther softball team displayed a vulgar level of power on Thursday, slamming five home runs in a pair of 7A/6A-East victories in a conference doubleheader at home against Jonesboro. The Lady Panthers hammered the Hurricanes 11-1 in the first game and won the much more competitive nightcap by the final score of 6-2.

Cabot (11-2, 8-0) ended the first game after five innings, scoring at least two runs every at-bat. But the Lady Panthers didn’t score as early and often in game two. The first two innings of the nightcap were scoreless, but the Lady Panthers scored one run in the top of the third to take a 1-0 lead over Jonesboro (11-8, 5-3).

Rachel Allgood led off the third inning with a double to the left-field fence, and she scored four batters later on a two out, RBI single by Southern Mississippi signee Heather Hill. The score remained 1-0 until the sixth inning, when the hosts added two more runs to their side of the board.

On the first pitch of the sixth inning, catcher Kaitlyn Felder hit a towering solo home run that sailed over the fence in left field and eventually landed in the gravel area behind the softball field. Felder’s monstrous solo shot gave the Lady Panthers a 2-0 cushion, and Macee Abbott scored Cabot’s third run on a two-out single to left field by Bethany Knowles.

Pitcher Lauren McCluskey threw another shutout inning in the bottom of the sixth, and Cabot added three insurance runs in the top of the seventh to further its lead to 6-0. On the fifth pitch of the seventh inning, Hill hit a solo home run of her own to up the CHS lead to 4-0.

Hannah Montgomery, who had two home runs and six RBIs in game one, was hit by a pitch after Hill’s homer, and she scored two batters later on Felder’s second home run of game two, setting Cabot’s run total for the evening.

Jonesboro’s two runs came off of a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh, but consecutive groundouts of 1-3, 6-3 and 4-3 followed, ending the game and giving the Lady Panthers their fourth conference sweep of the season in as many tries.

“At times we had opportunities early in the second game to put it away, but we didn’t,” said Cabot coach Chris Cope. “It’s tough playing two seven-inning games, especially on pitchers. But hey, we hung through and we found a way to win. We pushed some runs across late and took care of business.”

McCluskey continued her recent dominance in the circle. She pitched the first four innings of game one Thursday before being relieved by Montgomery in the fifth. McCluskey gave up just two hits, one walk and finished with five strikeouts in the first game.

In the nightcap, she threw all seven innings, giving up four hits and only one walk while recording three strikeouts.

On top of McCluskey’s stellar pitching performance, the defense had no errors in the two games played.

“She lets our team play,” Cope said of McCluskey, “and this is probably our first error-free game in a while. So we’re getting better.”

Felder, Hill and Knowles led Cabot at the plate in game two with two hits apiece. Allgood went 3 for 3 for the Lady Panthers in the first game, and in addition to Montgomery going 2 for 2 in that game, so did Felder.

McCluskey was just as dominant in the pitching circle on Wednesday, throwing a no-hitter in a 15-0 nonconference road win over Sylvan Hills at Sherwood Sports Complex.

Cabot’s 13 hits combined with two Lady Bear errors helped lead to the ending on the sportsmanship rule. Last Friday, McCluskey threw a pair of one-hit shutouts in a doubleheader sweep at Mountain Home.

McCluskey only fanned four Sylvan Hills batters, but got great defensive support from her teammates, who committed no errors.

Offensively, every member of the Cabot starting lineup got at least one hit while Parker Steadman and Hannah Montgomery each went yard. Montgomery went 2 for 2 with a walk, two runs scored and six RBIs. Knowles, Hill and McCluskey each got two base hits as well.

Montgomery’s home run came with the bases loaded in the top of the third, and the grand slam set the final margin. McCluskey capitalized on the momentum when she took the circle in the bottom half of the third, ringing up three of her four strikeouts in order to end the game.