Strong area tourney leads Chelsea to Regionals

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

HELENA – The Chelsea Hornets’ softball team will have yet another chance to win a state championship in 2018 after finishing second to Helena in the area tournament to lock up a spot in the South Central Regional Tournament starting Thursday, May 10, in Troy.

The 2016 Class 6A state champions, Chelsea won two games against Pelham and lost two close games against the Huskies to finish runner-up in the tournament.

The Hornets used a 5-0 win against the Panthers to open the tournament and advance in the winner’s bracket.

Chelsea outhit Pelham 12-4 in the game and broke a scoreless tie in the top of the third with two runs thanks to a double and a single from Abigail Bryars and Brooke Burback, respectively, to lead off the inning.

While two outs followed the early hits, Karson Rich stepped to the plate and hit a bases-clearing single to left field to bring both runners home for a 2-0 lead.

As part of a stretch where the Hornets scored in four consecutive innings, Bryars picked up her second double in as many innings to drive in Chloe Eidson for a 3-0 lead at the end of four innings.

In the top of the fifth, the Hornets eventually loaded the bases with just one out in the inning, but were only able to score one more run on a sacrifice fly.

Still though, Chelsea had opened up a 4-0 lead with Bryars pitching well in the circle to match her offensive play.

The Hornets were able to add one more run in the top of the sixth to close out the scoring as Burback hit a two-out home run to put Chelsea on top 5-0, which became the final score.

The five runs paired perfectly with Bryars’ dominant pitching effort, as she allowed just four hits and no runs while striking out five.

With the win, Chelsea advanced in the winner’s bracket to take on Helena. A win would have clinched a Regional berth in just two games, but the Hornets couldn’t overcome an early 5-1 deficit despite a three-run sixth inning that made the final score 5-4.

Losing meant the Hornets dropped into the loser’s bracket where they squared off against Pelham again to determine which team would be done for the season and which one would move on to Regionals.

In a tightly contested game, Chelsea was able to overcome a 2-1 deficit in the sixth inning thanks to a four-run outburst.

The Hornets took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but Pelham answered back with two runs in the bottom of the third to take a 2-1 lead, which held up for two more innings.

In the top of the sixth, Bryars was able to continue her strong tournament at the plate, as she singled to drive in a run. That was followed by a three-run bomb from Burback to really open up the game as the Hornets had taken a 5-2 lead after going into the inning down by one.

Pelham was only able to erase one of those runs in the bottom of the sixth as Chelsea’s season continued with a 5-3 victory.

The Hornets went on to play Helena again for the area championship needing two wins to take the title, while the Huskies needed just one win.

Chelsea took a 5-0 lead in the top of the fourth and a 6-2 lead in the top of the fifth, but seven unanswered runs from Helena in the bottom of the fifth and sixth gave the Huskies a 9-6 win and the area tournament championship.

The Hornets, however, showed major improvement from their regular-season area games and are now heading into the postseason with plenty of momentum.

In the two wins, Chelsea was led by Karson Rich, who went 4-for-6 with four RBIs, while Bryars was also 4-for-6 and had two RBIs. Burback went 4-for-8 with two RBIs. Eidson also picked up two hits in each win to finish 4-for-8 with two RBIs as well.

The Hornets will now travel to Troy on Thursday, May 10, to take part in the South Central Regional where the top two teams out of eight competing will advance to the state tournament.