Fike bats ignite in sixth inning, rally past Ladybirds in Big East opener

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For a freshman in the throes of her first 3-A Big East Conference softball game, nothing was going right for Lindsey Curlings before she stepped into the box for her crucial sixth-inning at bat against Southern Nash on Monday afternoon.

Curlings, the No. 6 hitter in the Lady Golden Demons’ order, was 0 for 3 with a pair of infield popouts and a groundout to shortstop. Wanting no part of senior Bailee Summerlin’s bat in a 4-4 game, Ladybirds’ head coach Scott Collie issued an intentional walk to her to load the bases.

That brought up Curlings, who after getting ahead of Southern Nash hurler Carrigan Ewers 2-0, drove a 2-1 pitch up the middle and out of the diving reach of centerfielder Leanna Ruffin, bringing across what proved to be the winning runs in Fike’s come-from-behind 7-5 victory.

The Lady Demons (5-3) entered the bottom of the sixth inning having squandered two runners in scoring position in the third and fifth innings. But that wasn’t the case in the sixth, as Fike, which sent 10 batters to the plate in the half inning, reached Ewers for five runs. Junior Kailyn Terry’s two-run single up the middle tied it as Fike put early pressure on in the inning with a pair of bunts from Hailey Hammonds and Caitlyn Graziani, both freshmen. A wild pitch advanced the runners and led to Terry’s tying hit on a 2-2 count. Junior LeAnn Pittman reached via a walk before Southern Nash (6-4) elected to put Summerlin aboard to re-load the bases with one out.

Therefore, it was up to Curlings, who didn’t hide her response to Summerlin getting the free pass in front of her. Summerlin was 2 for 2 with an RBI double in the bottom of the first.

“I already struggle hitting,” Curlings said. “So it put a lot of pressure on me. And it offended me. I just saw (the pitch) and took the opportunity.”

Collie said that he saw himself in a “no-win situation” with a base open and Summerlin strolling to the plate.

“I really didn’t want to walk Bailee because Lindsey is a good hitter and I felt like she was due,” he said. “But Bailee had a couple of good at-bats and it was really kind of a no-win situation. Lindsey hit one right at the centerfielder, and it hits off the bottom of her glove.”

Fike’s Josh Jenkins had a premonition that his freshman would be called upon to deliver a clutch hit.

“Bailee has been stroking the ball and she’s been bunting the ball well for us,” Jenkins said. “But when she came up to the plate, I had a feeling she was going to get intentionally walked. But I’m glad the pressure was on Lindsey to get that hit. Because that’s big for her, especially being a freshman.”

Fike tacked on an insurance run two batters later, with senior catcher Michaela Lockridge dumping an RBI single into left field that scored Summerlin.

Southern Nash, which had a three-game winning streak snapped in which it outscored opponents 42-0, tried to respond with two outs in the top of the seventh. Freshman Taylor Bailey’s two-out double to left center was followed by a bloop double from Alissa Bailey that brought the Ladybirds to within the final score. But with sophomore catcher Elisabeth Collie representing the tying run at the plate, she grounded out sharply to freshman Hailey Hammonds at third base to end it. Collie’s sacrifice fly in the top of the first helped stake Southern Nash to an early 2-0 cushion.

Pittman won her fourth appearance in seven outings for the Lady Demons, striking out four and not allowing a walk. Three of her five runs allowed were earned. Ewers, a sophomore, struck out eight and walked six in her six innings of work. Fike, which left two runners aboard in each inning at the plate, outhit Southern Nash 9-8.

Graziani went 3 for 4 with an RBI, driving in Lockridge, who walked, in the fourth. For Southern Nash, Taylor Bailey was 3 for 3 with a pair of doubles and a run scored. Her fifth-inning single scored senior Leanna Ruffin and boosted the Ladybirds’ lead to 4-1.

Alissa Bailey, who was 2 for 4 with a run, singled home Ruffin in the third.

Fike hits the road Wednesday to face first-year Big East member Franklinton.

“Our girls never back down,” Jenkins said. “Regardless of who we play, we’ve just got that mentality of keep plugging away. Something good is going to happen, and that’s what we did tonight.”

Score by innings:

Southern Nash 201 010 1 — 5

Fike 100 105 x — 7

WP-LeAnn Pittman (4-3) 7 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO. LP-Carrigan Ewers (2-3) 6 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 6 BB, 8 SO.

LEADING HITTERS — Fike: Caitlyn Graziani 3-4, RBI, R, Bailee Summerlin 2-2, 2B, RBI, R, Kailyn Terry 1-3, 2 RBI, 2 R, Michaela Lockridge 1-3, RBI, R. Lindsey Curlings 1-4, 2 RBI; Southern Nash: Taylor Bailey 3-3, 2 2B, RBI, Alissa Bailey 2-4, RBI.