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By Mark Clark
Central High’s chances of sharing the Area 4 regular season title with Auburn High ended last week with an 8-7 loss to Smiths Station on the Lady Red Devils’ home field. Now, the Lady Red Devils and Lady Panthers will meet for a third time this season in the opening contest of the Area Tournament in Auburn next week.
Central defeated Smiths Station 14-5 when the two met earlier this season after a 12-2 loss to Auburn. The team then rebounded to beat Auburn 6-5 two weeks ago to put itself in position to tie Auburn for the regular season title. Had Central defeated Smiths Station, it would have taken a coin flip to determine which team played host to the area tournament. But those hopes ended with the loss to Smiths Station.
“Last week’s loss to Smiths was a tough one just because of the rivalry. It is our first regular season loss to them in over five years. You have to tip your cap to them. They were able to get a couple big hits on a couple of our mistakes. I was proud of our girls because we were able to get things back to even at 5 each and then we had a chance at the end to win it. Again to their credit, they were able to keep us from getting that final hit,” Central coach Mitchell Holt said.
“Just like we have said all year in area games, we can’t let a win get us too excited and we can’t let a loss get us to down because the only thing that matters is how we are able to play in May. We were able to get back to practice the next day and work on a few things we picked up on. We will prepare and put in the work to hopefully play our very best next Tuesday and Thursday. Our area is very unpredictable. It really comes down to next Thursday. Whoever is playing the best that day will advance. The regular season has shown all of us that anyone can win and advance.”
Central and Smiths Station were tied after the first inning 1-1. The Lady Panthers took a ¬1 lead in the top of the third inning, but saw the lead erased in the bottom of the inning when Central struck for four runs. In the bottom of the third, Shelby Newsome singled, Kyleigh McHargue walked and Nayelica Diaz reached base on an error that allowed Newsome to score. Jaleigh Hardin followed with a home run to tie the contest at ¬5-5.
Smiths Station took the lead once more in the top of the fifth inning. Halley Thompson reached base on an error and then stole second. She took third on a single by Alexis Cosgrove and scored on a sacrifice fly by Kaylin Fincher.
In the sixth inning, Smiths Station added two more runs to lead 8-5. Paige Downing singled and Thompson followed with a single to put runners on first and second bases. Both runners scored when Summer Lawrence reached on an error.
Central attempted to come back in the bottom of the seventh inning, but fell a run short. With one out, Hardin walked. Madison Hurt singled to push Hardin to second. Hardin scored on a single by Briana Murray. Murray scored on a two-out single by Lane Thaxton. Runners were stranded at second and third bases as the inning ended.
Hardin was 3-for-3 to lead Central at the plate in the loss. She also had three RBIs.
Bella Gabarza was 3-for-5 to lead Smiths Station. Thompson, Cosgrove and Fincher each had two hits for the Lady Panthers.
Breanna Leininger was the winning pitcher when Central started last week with a 6-0 win over Beauregard. She gave up two hits over four innings.
Mckinnon Howard led Central at the plate, going 3-for-3. Orianna Watters and Hurt were each 2-for-3.
Central finished the week with a pair of victories and a loss at the University of Alabama in games against Guntersville, Pell City and Northridge. Central took wins over Guntersville, 3-2, and Pell City, ¬2, before losing to Northridge, 9-8.
Thaxton was the winning pitcher against Guntersville. She went five innings, gave up two hits and struck out four. Bailey Davis led Central at the plate with a 2-for-2 performance.
In the 5-2 win over Pell City, Desalynn Nesbitt got the pitching victory, giving up two runs on three hits. Fallyn Jordan and Howard were each 1-for-2 at the plate to lead Central. Hurt had a triple in the game.
Against Northridge, Central led 5-1 before giving up 7 runs in the bottom of the third inning. The Lady Red Devils scored three runs in the top of the fourth inning to tie the game, but gave up a run in the bottom of the fourth inning to lose 9-8.
Murray was the losing pitcher in relief of Leininger. McHargue and Leininger were each 2-for-3 at the plate for the Lady Red Devils. McHargue had a double in the loss.
Central will play Smiths Station in the first round of the area tournament next Tuesday in Auburn. Game time was not set as of Citizen Press time on Tuesday.