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      The sky was overcast, but not ominous, on a Monday evening as The
Lady Maverick Varsity Softball team sought to keep their playoff hopes
alive against the visiting Lady Wildcats of Woodmont.  Woodmont had
survived an elimination game on Saturday by defeating Gaffney to earn the
right to play in a second elimination round of the District 2 playoff
bracket.  As an opponent the Woodmont softball team is sound, not ominous.
Their lineup is young, but neither explosive nor powerful. They are
opportunistic, making few mistakes but capitalizing on those of their
opponents.  The Lady Mavs defeated Region 1's 4th place Lady Cats in the
first round of the district playoffs last week,  4-0 on a 1 hit, 7K,
shutout pitching performance by Freshman Amanda Storch, an errorless
performance by the Mauldin defense and an 11 hit performance by the Lady
Mavs offense.  The rematch would be less one sided and closer !  The
Woodmont squad brought a good bit more confidence to Mauldin's Clayton
Field Monday night, but it didnt show as the game got underway.  In each of
the first two Woodmont offensive innings one runner reached base safely -
via a base on balls in the first and via a throwing error to first in the
second, but in both cases there were two outs when the offending Lady Cats
arrived and a batter later when both returned to the visitors dugouts with
their teammates to get their gloves and defensive equipment.  Sophomore
Brianna Davis recorded 3 of the first 6 outs, while Storch got one via
strikeout and outfielders Jessica Lyles and Emma Swearingen each corralled
flyouts in the second.
      Mauldin's first two offensive innings each featured a double, but
little else to get excited about.  With two outs in the first, Senior
Shortstop and captain Dana Landers pounded a 3-0 count pitchout that was
too close to a strike to ignore, to the centerfield fence for a double. The
second strikeout of the Lady Mav inning allowed the Woodmont battery to get
away with the mistake on the intentional walk.  Kaitlyn Wagers, the pride
of Mauldin Middle school, and the lady Mavs second year catcher smacked a
rope into right center to start the bottom of the second off with a bang,
but three successive infield outs left her courtesy runner, Senior Krystina
Simms, stranded on second base just as Landers had been an inning previous.
      In Woodmont's third offensive frame, their pitcher, Baylea McCuen
bunted neatly and safely from the left side (she pitches righthanded) for
the Lady Cats first hit of the night off Storch.  The A-Train however,
recorded a K before and after McCuen's bunt-hit and returned to the dugout
as an infield fly was caught behind her and to her right for the third out.
The lady cats managed less against Storch and battery-mate Wagers in the
top of the 4th when the middle of their order grounded out to third,
struck-out, and was retired on a super forward diving catch by Freshman
Emma Swearingen in leftfield.
      Mauldin's third inning brought uncomfortable comparisons to a
Saturday afternoon game in which the Lady Mavs hit little and scored less,
allowing an overmatched team to hang around competitively, then capitalize
on an error and a hit. Flyouts to second base and leftfield followed a
groundout to third to make a quick and easy defensive stand for the Lady
Cats against the heavily favored home team.  The bottom of the fourth saw
the Woodmont battery make no mistake in their intentional walk of Landers
to start Mauldin's offensive frame.  Landers stole second easily a couple
of pitches later, then took third on a sacrifice bunt - placed so well by
Freshman Deanna Sullivan that the "sacrifice" label had to be erased and
replaced with "hit".  Sullivan stole second uncontested, but a groundout to
third failed to move either runner.  With one out and two in scoring
position, Emma Swearingen lifted a flyball into short rightfield that was
handled by the second baseman running towards the rightfield fence.
Landers alert and prepared, tagged up at third and scored on the play,
high-fiving Swearingen on the way back to the dugout for delivering the Sac
Fly RBI.  A groundout to second base could not do the same for Sullivan,
but Mauldin had put a run on the board and held a slim margin just past the
halfway point in the game.
      Storch struck out 2 more Lady Wildcats in the top of the 5th with
encouragement behind her.  She was the encourager on a fly ball that was
tracked down in short leftfield by Landers from the shortstop position for
the third out.  Woodmont's shortstop saw and completed some action in
Mauldin's half of the 5th as two grounders came her way, were fielded and
thrown to first to retire a pair of Lady Mavs.  Brianna Davis walked but
the third out was recorded on a bouncer back to the pitcher. Still 1-0 in
favor of the ladies in Orange and brown.  The capacity crowd, overflowing
with late arrivals, was enjoying the well pitched & defended, close game if
not the tremendous output of their team.
      Down to their final 6 outs and down by onlyt a single run, the Lady
cats sparked what might have been a costly two out rally.  Amanda Storch,
besides pitching well, also fielded her position admirably, scooping up a
pair of shots back to the circle and flipping to Madison Tracey at first to
notch the first two outs of the Woodmont 6th.  Then a base on balls
followed by a hit to leftfield put the tying run on second and the go-ahead
run on first.  A hard bouncer was sucked up by Brainna Davis at third who
turned and raced to her bag ahead of the runner from second for the third
out, allowing Mauldin to dodge a bullet.  The key for the Mauldin
Softballers would be to score more ! ...So Landers led off the bottom of
the 6th with a single to right and a stolen base.  Deanna Sullivan
sacrifice bunted Landers over to third before Wagers smacked an unplayable
shot off the leg of the Wildcat third baseman.  Unfortunately due to the
pained gal's shin, Landers couldn't score on the hit and waited for another
teammate to was not to be. Madison Tracey walked to load the
bases, but a  groundout to short and a flyout to right ended the rally
before another run became evident on the scoreboard.
      For her part, Storch wasnt letting anyone down.  She took the 7th
upon herself fielding another bouncer back to the mound and converting it
into an out at first.  Then she uncharacteristically walked her third
batter of the game.  The next Lady Cat batter drilled a liner back up the
middle just over Storch's head, but the freshman phenom snagged it and then
had plenty of time to double off the young lady she had just walked at
first with Maddie Tracey's help to complete the game ending double play !
      Mauldin wins and survives, 1-0 !  Congratulations - We know you can
win the close ones already !  What's wrong with a good old fashioned mercy
victory ?  With the win, Mauldin advances to the district finals, now
to be played in Spring Valley (Richland County, North of I-26 on I-20, West
of downtown Columbia) starting at 5:30 pm Wednesday May 4th...and again at
7:30 pm Wednesday !  Indeed, the Lady Mavs need to exact revenge and beat
the Vikings of Spring Valley twice tomorrow to represent District 2 in the
Upper state Playoff bracket.
      There are 16 teams left in the State Playoff tournament.  Although it
scarcely needs to be said, the strength and depth of Mauldin's 4A Region 2
can be gauged by the fact that all 5 teams from Region 2 remain alive in
the Elite Eight of the Upstate.  After tomorrow the number will be 4 as 4
District champions will square off in a new double elimination bracket to
decide who will represent the Upstate in the state final 2 of 3 against the
Lower state champions.  The Mavs are going to need to rely on the steady
and convincing pitching of their tremendous freshman, Amanda Storch, but so
too are they going to need to wake up their bats and legs.  Spring Valley
has not seen the Mauldin team that their faithful have watched average 10
hits and 8 runs per game...and its time for them to see it twice for good
measure !  Go Mavs !