Pisgah softball grabs win in County Clash shootout

Mar. 26—If you weren't at the softball field in Waynesville Tuesday night, you missed another classic chapter in Western North Carolina's best rivalry.

Pisgah softball claimed the first leg of this year's County Clash series — picking up a 15-9 win in an offensive shootout.

"That's one of the top [County Clash games]," Pisgah coach Heidi Morgan said. "That's probably one of the hardest-hitting games we've had. I'm proud of them. Any time you can beat Tuscola at Tuscola, it's a big night."

The bats were red hot to start the night. In the top of the first, Pisgah came out swinging.

Junior Savannah Dickerson earned the first RBIs of the night, driving in juniors MacKenzi Jones and Rylee Campbell on a hard ground ball.

An error allowed senior Alyssa Smith to reach later in the inning, which scored Dickerson and sophomore Addie Foust pushing the lead to 4-0.

In the very next at-bat, senior Tannon Sorrells racked up her first hit of the season in a big way.

The senior smashed a ball over the left field fence, nearly clearing the batting cages behind the fence and scoring three more runs.

"This was her first game hitting this season," Morgan said. "She hurt her thumb and she hadn't been able to hit. She had just played defense. She's a senior, and this was her last time playing on this field, so it's great for her."

The first inning showed some of the hosting Mountaineers' struggles.

"We beat ourselves a little bit. I know we can play better. I know we can hit better. We're usually better at executing. I think mentally, we just beat ourselves today," Tuscola coach Lindsay Markos said. "We have three great pitchers. They're just kind of going through something right now. They just have to trust their defense can back them up. The pitching is just not quite there right now."

Tuscola struck back in the bottom of the first when senior Allison Setzer grounded out to Pisgah junior pitcher Sadie Messer. The groundout allowed sophomore Kenzie Messer to score from third.

In County Clash games, there are always nerves early in games, but it seemed like both teams shook them off pretty quickly Monday night.

"There's always a little bit of nerves, but it's more butterflies," Markos said. "I'm proud of them for working through it. It's always fun. I just wish it would have went our way."

While no runs came across in the second, there was an interesting end to the frame.

With two outs and runners on second and third, senior Karsen Cherry came to bat. With a 1-2 count, Foust, who was playing catcher, stood up and pump-faked a throw to third.

Cherry had stepped out of the box after the pitch and was promptly called out by the umpire for interference.

"Absolutely frustrating because it's a judgment call by the umpire and she didn't make the throw," Markos said. "I have never seen that call in my however many years of playing."

While the call was technically correct by the letter of the rule, it didn't seem to be in the spirit of the rule as the runner had already made her way back to third by the time the throw was faked.

The call seemed to light a fire under the home team, however. The Mountaineers sat the Lady Bears down in order in the top of the third.

In the bottom half, Tuscola came storming back.

Junior Addi Sampson singled in Messer to cut the lead to 7-2.

The real rally started once Tuscola reached two outs.

An error allowed sophomore Sydney Snowden to reach first, scoring Setzer.

Sophomore Madisyn Brooks crushed a double to center field, scoring Snowden and Sampson.

Sophomore Kendall Williamson followed that up with a double of her own, sending Brooks in to cut the lead to just one run.

"We'll fight," Markos said. "We'll work hard. We know that we have to push through some of that hard stuff. We found a way to rally. We just didn't come out on top."

In the fourth inning, Tuscola leveled the score. Freshman Alexis Markos tripled and Setzer drove her in with a line drive to right field.

Having tied the game and having two runners on base, Tuscola seemed to have the momentum at their back.

That was until Foust fired a throw to first, picking off the runner and ending the inning.

"It's a huge momentum swing. We felt the momentum swing in their direction when they tied it up, but having it swing back to us towards the end was a huge confidence booster," Morgan said.

Despite the scoreline, Pisgah put together a strong defensive performance, with the pickoff being just one example.

"It was huge for the confidence of the pitcher to trust their defense, but also for the defense to trust themselves," Morgan said. "We always say we want to be our best when we go into playoffs and we're slowly climbing that hill."

Immediately following the pickoff, Pisgah showed just how important grabbing that momentum was.

Dickerson led off the inning with a solo shot over the left field wall, falling just short of the distance of Sorrells's home run earlier in the game.

"She's been working so hard in the offseason — lifting, getting stronger," Morgan said. "That was basically a line drive."

Sophomore Kayden Simpkins scored later in the inning on a wild pitch to push the Pisgah lead to 9-7.

If there was anything to learn from this game, however, it was that Tuscola was not going to go away.

In the bottom of the fifth, Tuscola had two outs with two runners in scoring position.

A soft ground ball from Kenzie Messer looked like it was going to end the inning.

But Messer wasn't going to go down without a fight. The sophomore dashed down the first base line, narrowly beating the throw. During the scramble down to first, both runners came around to score — tying the game at nine.

"It helps our team tremendously," Markos said. "If you put pressure on the defense and you're able to have those wheels on base, they have to be perfect on those plays."

In the top of the sixth, Foust recorded the game-winning RBI, singling on a line drive to center field and sending Campbell home.

Pisgah scored three more runs in the inning, mostly on the back of strong base running on a few passed balls and wild pitches.

"Small things make big things happen — focusing on the process," Morgan said. "We spent a lot of time talking about it this week — firing off the bags quickly if there's a passed ball."

Pisgah scored the final run of the game in the top of the seventh when Jones tripled and scored Campbell.

Now, both teams look ahead to their coming schedules. Leading up to spring break, Pisgah has home games against Enka and Hayesville, before returning to Mountain 7 play with a pair of road trips to North Henderson and Smoky Mountain.

In that same period, Tuscola will host Robbinsville, West Henderson and Smoky Mountain, with a road trip to Swain County squeezed in the middle.

The two teams will meet again on April 26 with the Canton-hosted leg of the County Clash. Last year, the visiting team won each match-up with Pisgah winning the game at Tuscola 8-1 and the Mounties winning the reverse leg 7-6.

"We did it last year. We'll do it again this year," Markos said.