Tigers beat odds, Seahawks

Published 8:46 pm Friday, May 2, 2008

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
CHOCOWINITY — The odds were stacked against the Tigers. After losing a 12-inning heartbreaker to Northside Wednesday night, the Tigers had to bounce back the next day to face Gabby Cilluffo (who hadn’t given up a run in 34 straight innings) and the Atlantic Conference champion Southside Seahawks (who were undefeated in the conference) on the road Thursday in a game that had heavy playoff implications.
The odds dropped even lower when Williamston spotted Cilluffo a 2-0 lead in the first inning. However, the Tigers clawed back, snapped Cilluffo’s scoreless innings streak at 37, and removed the zero from Southside’s conference loss column with a gritty 6-2 win Thursday night.
The Tigers (13-7, 9-3) rode the back of sophomore pitcher Harris Shepherd, who allowed five hits in seven innings, and benefited from some clutch hitting by Natara Peele and Cassie Harrell.
The win greatly increases Williamston’s odds of retaining second place in its half of the Atlantic Conference, and at the very least assures the team of a wild card spot in the NCHSAA 1-A playoffs.
For Southside’s Sydney Harding, Resla Penn, Chelsi Chandler and Cilluffo, the loss dampened Southside’s Senior Night.
After the game, Southside coach John Lohman said he appreciates the effort his four seniors put into to playing the game.
After a defensive miscue severely hurt the Tigers against Northside Wednesday, history looked like it would repeat itself on Thursday.
Tigers’ catcher Bailee Cowens couldn’t connect with third baseman Heather Jackson in an attempt to pick off Southside’s Harding. Harding, who reached base on a single, easily scored after the ball sailed into left field.
The Seahawks tacked on another run when Madison Bramm, who was running for Resla Penn, scored from third on a wild pitch.
Down 2-0 against one of the top pitchers in the area, Williamston dug deep in the fourth and pulled out a two-out, two-run rally to even up the game.
Cowens got the ball rolling when she crushed a Cilluffo pitch all the way down the left field foul line for a double. Sarah Bowen followed up with a single, and it appeared that there would be a play at the plate, but Hayes opted to hold Cowens at third.
It was a good choice, as Natara Peele stepped into the batter’s box and crushed an opposite field double to score Cowens and Bowen and tie the score at 2-2.
Cilluffo and Shepherd matched zeros until the top of the seventh, when Williamston tall four runs.
Peele led off the inning with a single, which set the stage for a Shepherd bunt and some bizarre drama.
In an attempt to move the runner into scoring position, Shepherd dropped a bunt that danced down the first base line, and around her bat, which was dropped in front of home plate.
The home plate umpire immediately sprung up and took three steps toward the pitcher’s mound, gesturing with his arms up, but said nothing until the play was over.
Southside botched the bunt attempt, allowing Shepherd to reach first safely, and Peele to advance to third.
Once play stopped, all eyes turned to the home plate official, as he walked up the field to converse with the field official to discuss the play. After a brief discussion it was ruled that everyone was safe and there was no interference.
Lohman quickly jumped out of the dugout to argue the call, but it was to no avail.
Cilluffo settled down to strike out Jessica Clemmens for the first out for the inning, which set the stage for Harrell.
The Tigers second baseman had hit the ball hard in each of her at-bats, but the ball always found a Seahawks mitt; not this time.
Harrell smashed the ball up the middle to bring home Peele and a Williamston victory.
A Heather Jackson two-run double increased the lead to 5-2, while a Southside error on a Presley Roberson grounder to first allowed Jackson to score the sixth and final run.
Thursday’s game was the last of the regular season for the Tigers, who will know await their playoff fate, while the Seahawks will take on Northside on the road Monday.
Williamston 000 200 4 — 6 8 3
Southside 200 000 0 — 2 5 2
WP: Harris Shepherd; LP: Gabby Cilluffo
Hitters: W — Cassie Harrell 1-4 (RBI), Heather Jackson 1-4 (2B, 2 RBI), Bailee Cowens 2-3, Sarah Bowen 2-3 (R), Natara Peele 2-3 (2B, 2 RBI); S — Chelsi Chandler 2-3, Sydney Harding 2-3 (R), Gabby Cilluffo 1-3.