ASHEVILLE - There seemed to be a lot of obstacles Friday night trying to get in the way of the McDowell Lady Titans’ clinching the Mountain Athletic Conference 4A softball championship.
However once the team set their eye on the prize, nothing was going to stop them.
McDowell, in a spirited effort, was able to overcome a five-run deficit and the loss of a key player to stun the A.C. Reynolds Lady Rockets 12-8 Friday on their home field to win the MAC 4A league title.
The win by the Lady Titans was the best collective team effort that head coach Catriona Young has seen from her group all season. And it all came together at just the right time. There was also plenty of motivation by the team to get this win on the road.
For starters, McDowell had the MAC 4A title hopes in their own hands as they started a challenging two-game road trip, and a victory on Friday would have taken care of matters. Second, the team was wanting a second chance at Reynolds on the diamond; the first matchup was a lopsided affair as the Lady Rockets came to Titan Field back on Apr. 5 and throttled McDowell 16-3.
Young said the team felt as if they had something to prove from the first meeting.
“Winning this means so much,” she said. “I am really proud of this group for buying into the style of ball that we play and to prove that it does work. Our seniors have done a great job in leading us and I think we’re getting better every day. We lost really bad to them and didn’t play well the first time and that game a couple weeks ago was a constant reminder to our team.”
And the third bit of motivation came early in Friday’s contest as starting pitcher and senior Michalyn Bingham was seriously injured while on the mound.
Down 4-0 to Reynolds with two outs in the home half of the second, Bingham was injured on a scary play when Amaron Craig hit a pitch sharply back up the middle. Bingham, with no time to react, was struck by the ball near her midsection, immediately collapsing to the ground. Bingham laid there in obvious pain for several minutes until a trainer and eventually paramedics arrived. She was ultimately carted off the field and after a delay of 15-20 minutes, play did resume.
As of press time, the extent of Bingham’s injury was not known, but a possible fracture of the pelvis was feared as Bingham was being evaluated at a local medical facility.
“It was a scary moment for sure to see Michalyn after that ball was hit,” said Young. “She really had no time to react to what happened.”
It would have been easy for McDowell to never regain focus after dealing with such an injury, but the team seemed to come together after Bingham’s departure.
“A lot of teams would have put their heads down and given up at that point, but this group came together and bonded in a way that they haven’t all season and they were determined to pick up one another,” Young said. “When Bingham went down, I had to make a decision as to where to turn next on the mound, and I through Aly (Woody) did a good job. She has a strong will and that’s what I needed at that point to make sure to get us back on track. And then to have Lea step in there with the defense behind her, it was a total team effort.”
After not scoring in the first two innings, the Lady Titans got on the board in the third, putting up a pair against Reynolds pitcher Josie Harris to clip the deficit in half to 4-2.
Micaiah Shelton got it started with a two-out single. Woody then singled up the middle, putting runners on the corners. Catcher Haley Gowan got McDowell on the board 4-1 with an RBI single to left-center, scoring Shelton. Liana Elliott then followed with an RBI hit, scoring Woody to make it a two-run game.
The Lady Rockets countered with three more in the third, pushing the lead to its highest margin of five runs (7-2) at the time. Reynolds could have tacked on more and could have put the game away, as they stranded two on base in the third.
And with that, it was as if McDowell had an opening, and not only did they use the advantage, they barged through with seven unanswered runs over the next three frames.
The Lady Titans were able to get two more in the fourth thanks in part to a costly fielding error by the Lady Rockets infield. The error with two outs directly resulted in both runs, shrinking the lead to 7-4.
McDowell then really got to Harris after that point. Woody singled and Gowan walked to put a pair of runners on at the start of the Lady Titans fifth. Parker Brown then singled with one out, loading the bases. McKenzie Waycaster made it 7-5 when she reached on a error, letting a run score. Kelly Parker then dropped an RBI single over shortstop, getting the Reynolds lead down to one run.
While the team was fighting back offensively, the pitching staff really picked up the slack in the middle and late innings. Sophomore Lea Conner came in to start the fourth and went the rest of the way and did a great job at shutting down the Reynolds offense. She allowed just one run in the last four innings on two hits, striking out six. Conner’s pitching along with some good defense helped stall out a couple threats late in the contest.
McDowell took its one and only lead of the night in the sixth when they tacked on three more runs off Harris. It all started again with some miscues defensively as Shelton reached on a play in which the Reynolds first baseman bobbled a throw that would have gotten her out by a step.
Woody promptly followed with a RBI triple to right-center, scoring Shelton to tie the score 7-7. Gowan then singled in Woody, giving the Lady Titans an 8-7 lead, and then Brown made it 9-7 with a sacrifice fly.
The Lady Rockets, down for the first time in the game, had a response in their half of the sixth. Leadoff hitter McKenzie Duncan singled off Conner. Cami McLaughlin then walked and Craig followed up with an RBI single making the score 9-8.
Once again Reynolds had a chance to post a big inning in the sixth as they had two runners on and no outs. But Conner shut the door as she struck out a batter and forced a couple pop-ups, ending the sixth.
In the seventh, McDowell pulled away, as it got four more hits and drove in three more runs, making it 12-8. The big hit of the seventh was an RBI double from Shelton with one out.
That margin was enough for Conner as she fanned two more in the last half-inning for the win.
The Lady Titans finished with 17 hits as a team, with 11 of them coming in the fourth inning or later.
McDowell concludes the regular season on Tuesday at Enka.