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      A capacity crowd gathered at Mauldin's Clayton Field Tuesday evening
under overcast skies and amidst a gentle but cool and wet breeze.  Those
arriving early got the best seats and watched a gallantly played see-saw
battle between the J.V. softball teams of Mauldin and Hillcrest high, won
in the top of the fifth by Hillcrest who staged a 5 run rally then held off
the Mauldin girls in the bottom of the 5th, to a final score of 12-8.
Afterwards the varsity teams began their warmups and the tension built as
arch-Rivals Mauldin and Hillcrest prepared to do battle on the softball
field.  In this rivalry it often doesnt matter who has the best record, or
who is expected to win, often not even who is the home team... it comes
down to which team brought "it" and which is best mentally prepared for
this emotional contest.  In 2010, Hillcrest visited Clayton Field, sitting
in 4th place in the region and facing Mauldin's Region 2 first place and
undefeated team on Senior Night...and upset the eventual 4A State
Champions.  On paper Hillcrest had the more experienced team, but Mauldin
had the better record and ranking...Who would show up and who would falter
under the lights and with a standing room only bipolar & raucous crowd in
attendance ?
      In the top of the first, Mauldin's Freshman Pitching Phenom, Amanda
Storch toed the rubber for Mauldin and prepared to face leadoff hitter and
lightning fast University of Kentucky commitment, Sylver Samuel of
Hillcrest.  Maybe it was anxiety or maybe the usually and genuinely sweet
14 year old was sending a message, but she plunked Samuel with the second
pitch and put the dangerous runner on the bases.  A sacrifice bunt moved
Samuel to second and a basehit by Alyssa Willard moved her to third.  Lady
Ram pitcher Courtney Roberts then hit a bullet into centerfield to score
Samuel and move Willard to third.  An alert play on a bouncer to third by
Mauldin Sophomore Brianna Davis caught Willard in a rundown between third
and home. Throws to catcher Kaitlyn Wagers and then to Dana Landers got the
tag and the second out.  Meanwhile the courtesy runner for Roberts moved up
to second and scored on a basehit to left by the next batter, Casey
Stephens. Davis fielded and threw to Madison Tracey at first for the third
out, and Mauldin trotted into their dugout facing Roberts and a rare
deficit of 2 runs in the bottom of the first.
      With one out, Brianna Davis stroked a double into the leftfield
corner to ignite the home crowd and her teammates.  An out later, Deanna
Sullivan walked bringing 8th grader Kaitlyn Wagers to the plate.  Wagers
brought Davis home with a bloop into short center which was reached but not
held by the speedy Samuel, the Ram's centerfielder.  A groundout left
Sullivan and Nadine Hernandez (running for Wagers) stranded on the bases,
but not before Mauldin had cut Hillcrest's early lead by half, 1-2.
      Over the next four top or Hillcrest offensive halves of the innings,
it became clear that the first inning Lady Ram outburst was an aberration
of anxiety from the young Mauldin pitcher, because she hit her stride in
the top of the second, striking out a pair and watching a roller to Junior
second baseman, Bria Barnhill, get sucked up and flicked to first to retire
the side.  In the top of the third, another K and two more infield outs
collected by Madison Tracey at first base.  Storch struck out the side in
the top of the fourth, although it was interrupted by a dropped fly ball in
leftfield which proved harmless since the hitter who benefitted from it
could only watch from second base instead of the dugout as Storch fanned
her teammate to end the inning.  Dana Landers got into the defensive act in
the top of the fifth by catching a head high line drive and fielding
another at her ankles and throwing to first for the second out.  The
familiar Barnhill to Tracey rightside combination accounted for the third
out, so after 4 and a half innings the Lady Rams found their offensive
output still stuck at two runs.
      The question was, when was the usually potent Mauldin attack going to
be unleashed and who would lead them ? In the bottom of the second Freshman
Emma Swearingen stepped up and laced a single up the middle.  A wild pitch
moved her to second. An out later, Jessica Lyles put down a nice sacrifice
bunt to move Swearingen to third, but Lyles was safe and Swearingen came
around to score when the Hillcrest coverage dropped the throw to first.
Lyles was caught stealing second for the second out and a pop fly to first
completed the Mauldin second inning with the score now tied at 2.  The top
of the third had only one highlight...but it was a big one !  Brianna Davis
showed she would be Mauldin's offensive leader in this game by blasting a
high bomb over dead centerfield.  The solo homer by Davis gave the Lady
Mavs a 3-2 lead which didnt change in a hitless Mauldin 4th offensive
      The bottom of the fifth was the turning point in the game,  After a
strikeout to start it, Hillcrest's Roberts walked Bria Barnhill and gave up
another crunching double to the hot hitting Brianna Davis.  With runners on
second and third she intentionally walked Landers to load the bases, then
unintentionally issued a pass to Deanna Sullivan to push Barnhill across
the plate.  A single off of Wager's bat brought Davis in to score her third
run of the night, and an out later, a basehit by Swearingen brought Landers
and Sullivan in to score.  A throwing error by the Hillcrest third baseman
allowed Madison Tracey to reach first and Wager's courtesy Runner,
Hernandez, to cross a slippery wet plate with the Lady Mavs 8th run.
      Suddenly Hillcrest's softball team and coaches were behind by 6 runs
and only had 6 outs to do something about it !  As it was the third time
through the order against the "A-Train" , Hillcrest put three two out hits
together, the first of them being a double by Brittany Mackey and the third
one, of the RBI variety up the middle.  A walk loaded the bases and the
Hillcrest sideline was loudly eager with anticipation, but they and the
batter were quieted by the right-side combination of Barnhill and Tracey.
The rally was limited to a single run and Mauldin remained in control 8-3.
      In the bottom of the 6th, Mauldin's hot bats re-appeared but overly
exuberant baserunning short circuited another rally by the home team.  Bria
Barnhill led off with a walk but was called out (questionable) on an
attempted steal of second base.  Brianna Davis, unstoppable for Mauldin on
this night,  poked a single through the 5-6 hole into left to arrive at
first base having completed a 4 for 4 performance including 3 extrabase
hits - lacking only a triple to have hit for the cycle.  Dana Landers then
rocketed a line drive to the fence rimming the left-centerfield alley for a
double but rounded the base too aggressively as if to get to third while
her teammate scored.  But her teammate was held at third by a good relay
throw to the plate.  A heads-up Hillcrest catcher spotted Landers in
no-mans land between second and third and threw to put the senior in a
rundown.  As Landers dodged and tried to stay alive (she was eventually
called out for leaving the baseline), Davis broke for home.  When the
umpire signalled Landers out, the second baseman threw home in time to nail
a sliding Davis at the plate for the third out.  What might have been was a
couple more insurance runs, but what was going to need to stand up was the
5 run lead Mauldin held going into the top of the 7th.
      Hillcrest found itself at the top of its order, exactly where they
would choose to be, although not likely down to their rival by a handful of
runs.  Leadoff sprinter Sylver Samuel beat out an infield tap for a hit.
Landers fielded a grounder and threw to Barnhill to get Samuel at second
for the first out.  Storch induced a flyball that was corralled by Landers
for the second out and then walked her opposite pitcher.  Back to back
singles each brought in a run for the visitors from Simpsonville, but
another line drive hit at Landers was caught for the penultimate out in
this hard fought and exciting game, closed out by Storch and the Mauldin
defense, won by the Lady Mavs 8-5 to keep the gals in orange and brown
undefeated in the Region and on the Season.  Great job Mauldin Softballers
- Baa ram ewe and Let it rain !
      The Lady Mavs have no more games this week so that homework can be
completed early and tests can be Aced.  The Mauldin Softballers go back
into action next Tuesday the 5th at Byrnes starting at 6:00 pm, come back
home to face Riverside on Wednesday the 6th at 6:00 pm, and finish the week
at JL Mann starting at 5:30 pm on Thursday April 7th.  A win over Hillcrest
always and understandably feels huge.  Next week for the maturing Lady Mavs
is bigger, but what better way to go into it than brimming with confidence
and sporting a full game lead in the region standings.  That could all
change in the same week...but lets NOT !  Go Mavs !