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Tuscola softball opens season in high-scoring contest

Mar. 6—Softball season is here and the Tuscola Lady Mountaineers kicked their season off on Tuesday night against one of the better teams in Western North Carolina.

Tuscola faced off against Enka, the team that knocked Tuscola out of last year's playoffs before being knocked out in the regional semi-finals by the eventual state champions. The Jets ended up victorious in the offensive battle, 15-6.

"Enka is a great team," Tuscola coach Lindsay Markos said. "We knew they were going to be tough and they knew we were going to be tough. They did a great job of hitting the ball and finding some of the holes. They were aggressive on the bases, just like we were aggressive on the bases."

The Jets went up 2-0 in the first inning and never surrendered that lead. But Tuscola hung with Enka for the first couple of innings.

In the bottom of the first, sophomore Kinzie Messer scored on a passed ball to cut the lead in half.

"I think we made them question a few things, which is what these girls can do," Markos said. "We are a good team. There is a lot of potential."

Enka struck again in the top of the second, extending their lead to 3-1.

In the third inning, however, is when the floodgates opened. Enka started things off by scoring five runs in the top of the inning, but Tuscola wasn't ready to give up.

In the home half of the frame, the Lady Mountaineers scored three. First, junior Addi Sampson doubled in Messer for her second run of the game. Then, junior Kenzie Cook struck a line drive into left field that scored Markos and Sampson, cutting the deficit to 8-4.

Last season, Enka and Tuscola matched up twice with the teams combining for a total of 10 runs between the two games. On Tuesday night, the teams had combined for 12 by the end of the third inning.

"It's crazy," Markos said. "We were talking about that too. When I look at their lineup and then I look at our lineup, we could flip the lineup and it would be fine. I think they could do the same thing. Maybe it is just going to be a year where hitting is going to happen and our defense is going to have to figure out a way to cover those holes and make those plays where we can get those outs."

Enka added three more in the top of the fourth and four more in the sixth, while Tuscola grabbed two in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a pair of bases-loaded walks.

But Tuscola could have done more with the runners they had on base. In total, Tuscola stranded nine runners on base compared to just six for Enka.

The Mounties also had a pair of errors on the defensive side of the ball.

"We had two errors that hurt us a little bit," Markos said. "They hit really well and they manufactured runs. That's what we needed to do."

The team is already showing improvements, however.

"We always talk about something we did great, something we did good and something we need to work on," Markos said. "From our three scrimmages, we really did everything we wanted to focus on."

Improvement will be the name of the game for Tuscola this season. Last year, the Mounties went 12-10 and finished third in the Mountain 7. However, the team is much younger than they were last season after graduating five seniors.

This year, the Mounties have just two seniors and five upperclassmen in total.

"We're a young team and I know that," Markos said. "These girls have played together for a long time, which is great because they know each other."

Now, the team looks ahead to the rest of their schedule.

In non-conference play, the Mounties still have a contest against A.C. Reynolds, who went 13-7 last season, and two games against McDowell, who went 15-8 last year and beat Tuscola 7-3 in their one meeting.

"The good thing is that the first game jitters are gone," Markos said. "I try to take it one game at a time. We're going to keep pushing forward. We have to flush today and learn from it and continue to grow."