By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The District 13-3A showdown had an ideal start for the host Munford Lady Cougars.
The Lady Cougars welcomed Tipton County rival the Brighton Lady Cardinals April 15 to the Munford Softball Field. The contest marked the return of standout and University of Memphis signee Sami Jo Schulz for Munford.
Her teammate and fellow senior Tara Comer took to the circle and limited the Lady Cardinals to a single while striking out two batters in the top of the first inning Then the Lady Cougars put a four-spot on the scoreboard to conclude the opening inning.
But as the Lady Cougars prepared to take the field for the second inning, Head Coach Glenn Goulder warned his team that the game was far from over.
“I knew they weren’t going to quit,” he said. “They’re well coached and very aggressive at bat.”
Robin Jacobs’ Lady Cardinals did fight back to make the score 4-3 in the third inning. The Lady Cougars managed to hold on to the lead throughout the entire game to prevail 5-4 and hand the Lady Cardinals their first league defeat.
Goulder said coming into the game, the Lady Cardinals set atop the league because of good coaching, hitting, defense and pitching. His team needed an early good start.
“It gave us a little confidence,” he noted. “Lot of times when we score a lot runs, we play poor defense. But I thought we played pretty strong defense tonight. That was a big plus.”
Schulz was the led off batter for Munford in the first inning and quickly showed the soldout crowd she had her old form. With her trademark slapping form, Schulz stroke the ball and flew down the first base line for a single.
Two batters later Jodie Duncan struck a big blow with a double to centerfield to drive home Schulz. Next to the plate was Comer and her single brought Duncan across the plate making the tally 2-0.
After Alex Stanford recorded a base hit, Alex Turner stepped to the plate and took her turn at hitting a base hit scoring the third run of the inning. The final run of the inning came courtesy of Jessyca Baker.
The Munford lead remained heading into the third inning. Then it was the Lady Cardinals’ turn to rally starting with a Hunter Simpson base hit.
Then McCallie Ruffin singled. Two batters later Lulu Smith drove the ball deep to right-centerfield off the wall to score Brighton’s first run. The Lady Cougar outfielders limited Smith to a single.
Hadley Wilkins kept the inning flowing with a base hit to drive home Ruffin makin the score 4-2. All the hits in the inning came off the bats of seniors. Another Lady Cardinal senior Morgan Shaver got into the act with a base hit to make the tally 4-3. Smith was that third run to cross the plate but a throw from the outfield had her out at home.
But Smith spot the ball and Baker waiting on her. The senior quickly started to back paddle toward third base. And when Baker’s throw sailed over her head, Smith was able to score.
Baker would redeem herself in the fourth inning. Lady Cardinal Bri McBride led off the inning with a single. And after Comer recorded two outs, McBride was given the steal sign. Baker fired the ball while still on her knees getting the speedy McBride out to end the inning.
The Lady Cougars went back on the offense in the sixth inning adding an insurance run courtesy of Tori Ray. She was able to drive in Stanford to make the score 5-3.
Brighton went scoreless in the top half of the sixth inning with Schulz throwing out two Lady Cardinals from her shortstop position.
In the top of the seventh inning, Schulz wasn’t able to retrieve a hit off the bat of Ruffin. With two outs, all nine Lady Cougars had to watch Ruffin’s solo blast fly over the fence toward the Goulder Field sign to make the score 5-4.
But Comer and the Lady Cougars withstood the threat and got the final out to give Munford the district win and Schulz a happy return.
“She felt good tonight,” Goulder said. “I don’t know how she’ll feel tomorrow. She might be hurting everywhere tomorrow. But I asked her after five innings, ‘You think you can go pass five? Do you want to try it?’ She goes coach, ‘I really do want to try it.’
“She made a fantastic diving play right after that that sparked us,” he concluded. “My hats off to Brighton too. It’s tough to come to the other place and play and they did a great job.”