(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
DEXTER -- With their 50-game winning streak on the line, the New Madrid County Central Lady Eagles got a little more excitement than they anticipated when they took on the Dexter Lady Bearcats.
Putting in their subs to start the bottom of the fifth with a 16-run lead on Monday, the Lady Eagles watched the Lady Bearcats rally for 13 runs in the frame and close their deficit to four.
By sending their ace Michaela Townsend back to the mound after an inning off, however, NMCC was able to stop the hemorrhaging and survive for a 17-14 win.
"I take a lot of the blame for letting the momentum get away from us," NMCC head coach Steve Rogers said. "We had them and probably should have just put the pedal to the metal and won it in five (innings), but I wanted to get some of these other gals in.
"Some of them didn't get to play in the tournament on Saturday. I'll think long and hard before I do it again."
Before Dexter's stunning comeback NMCC looked to have the game well in hand. With Townsend cruising through four innings of one-run ball, the Lady Eagles offense was able to pound out the runs.
Starting with a five-run top of the first, NMCC went on to score four runs in the second and three in the third to take a commanding 12-1 lead.
After another run in the fourth, followed by a four-run rally in the top of the fifth, the Lady Eagles had build a 17-1 advantage and needed only three more outs to lock up their 51st consecutive win via the mercy rule.
Unfortunately for NMCC with several replacements coming in to start the bottom of the fifth, including anew pitcher, things started to unravel in a hurry.
After scoring one run the previous four frames, in the second, Dexter opened up with a pair of walks before an error on the infield brought in the first run of the rally.
With the bases loaded, Kendra Stevensone brought in the next run with a one-out single before a pair of walks forced home the third and fourth runs of the innings.
After a two RBI single from Tiffany Watson helped the Lady Bearcats eventually close to within 17-9, it was an inside-the-park grand slam by Ashley Brown that was the highlight of Dexter's rally.
Coming up with the bases loaded, Brown hit a line drive to left-center field that got past a pair of outfielder playing shallow and rolled toward the fence.
By time the ball was brought back in to the infield, the speedy Brown had crossed the plate to make it 17-13.
"That's the biggest poke I've ever seen her make," Dexter head coach Leonard Morse said of Brown. "She's a spark plug and that why she's up there as the leadoff batter. Not that she can jack those all the time, but she's spark.
"She gets excited and the rest of the team feeds off her. She did what she knew how to do and got a good hit. It helps when you have a 300-foot fence. The ball can roll."
Brown's slam forced NMCC to bring back Townsend to finish the inning. She allowed one more on before getting the final two outs as the Lady Bearcats closed to within three runs.
By the end of the frame Dexter had batted around the order twice.
"This is my fifth year working with Dexter High School as a softball coach and this is my first year as the head coach. In those five years I've never seen us bat around the order twice in one inning."
Now that their offense had knocked them back into the ball game, Dexter's defense held NMCC scoreless for the final two innings to keep it a three-run game.
With Townsend back in a rhythm, however, the Lady Bearcats went three-and-out in the sixth to come back up in the bottom of the seventh with the top of their order up.
Needing three runs to keep their hopes alive, Dexter saw a strikeout and a flyout leave them with one last chance at a comeback. A single up the middle by Stevenson was able to keep the Lady Bearcats hopes, momentarily, alive before a ground out back to the pitcher allowed Townsend to finish what she had started.
In picking up the win, Townsend went 6 2/3 innings total, allowing two runs on five hits and no walks while striking out five.
"Michaela set for two years behind probably the best players we've ever had in Kelly Robey," Rogers said. "She's paid her dues and is as good of a strike throwing pitcher as we've had since I've been here.
"We normally play good defense behind her and she keeps us in ball games. She's a great competitor and did a great job coming in when I almost let the game get away for us."
Of NMCC's nine starters, seven had two hits on the contest with all nine contrubiting at least a single. Emma Karafa had a double and a triple while Whitney Williams and Mary Clara Hays had a double and triple respectively in a two-hit effort by each.
For Dexter, Stevenson went 3 for 5 while Rickman added two-hits to the Lady Bearcats cause, including a triple.
NMCC now stands at 8-0 with Dexter holding a 3-5 mark.
NMCC will travel to East Prairie to play the Lady Eagles today to 4 p.m.
NMCC 543 1 4 0 0 - 17
Dexter 010 0(13)0 0 - 14
WP -- Michaela Townsend. LP -- Becky Anderson. 2B -- (N) Karafa, Williams, Michaela Townsend; (D) Emily Triplett. 3B -- Hayes; (D) Rickman. HR -- (D) Ashley Brown. Multiple hitters -- (N) Madison Zuck 2-3, Anna Manley 2-5, Katie Rausch 2-5, Mary Clara Hayes 2-5, Meredith Stanley 2-4, Emma Karafa 2-4, Whitney Williams 2-5; (D) Kendra Stevenson 3-5, Riley Rickman 2-3.