Spain Park wins back-to-back elimination games at regionals to advance to state tournament

Published 12:45 am Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

FLORENCE – After a shaky start to the day in the Class 7A North Regional tournament in Florence on Monday, May 6, the Spain Park Jaguars found their backs against the wall.

A rain-delayed 2-0 loss to the Austin Black Bears meant they would have to win both of their remaining games that day to keep their season alive and qualify for the state tournament.

Spain Park stepped up and delivered when it needed to the most and beat the Bob Jones Patriots 6-4 and Austin 5-0 to earn the second qualifying spot out of the North Regional.

In their first elimination game of the day against Bob Jones, the Jags drew a lead-off walk that eventually turned into the first run of the game thanks to a sacrifice bunt and an error.

Both teams then got out of two-out jams in their next times at the plate as they went without another run until the bottom of the third, which was when the Patriots struck back.

Three straight batters reached for Bob Jones to start the half-inning with the last batter of the sequence delivering an RBI single to tie the game at 1-1.

However, Spain Park went on an offensive rally of its own in the top of the fourth when singles from Reagan Roberts and Caroline Charles put two on with one out.

The Patriots then chose to walk Maggie Daniel to try and force the double play, but Charlee Bennett stepped up to the plate and punished that decision with the bases loaded.

Facing a 3-1 count, Bennett launched a grand slam to center to blow open the game and put the Jags up 5-1.

After a scoreless fifth, Spain Park loaded up the bases once again with a Chloe Wade lead-off single along with a one-out walk and hit batsman. That set up Klara Thompson to plate a run off a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 6-1.

While the Jags sat down Bob Jones in three batters in the sixth, the Patriots made their move in the seventh in a comeback bid.

A ground out and an error started the inning and led to an RBI double and RBI single on back-to-back at-bats to cut the deficit to three. Two more errors loaded back up the bases and allowed Bob Jones to make it a two-run game off a sacrifice fly.

Spain Park walked the next batter and gave Bob Jones a chance to walk it off, but the Jags got a groundball and threw out a runner at home to end the game and seal the 6-4 win.

Young earned the win with three innings of one-run ball while allowing just three hits and two walks. Ella Ussery took the four-inning save while giving up just one earned run and working around three total runs, three hits and two walks to secure four strikeouts.

Allie Whitaker and Charles each finished with multi-hit games as Whitaker went 2-for-3 and Charles went 2-for-4 with a run.

That victory set the stage for a second chance at Austin with the state tournament on the line.

The first two innings came and went without a run despite the Black Bears loading up the bases in the bottom of the second.

With Spain Park now out of the jam, a hit batsman, Tatum Lasseter’s bunt to reach first base and an intentional walk on Bennett loaded up the bases for the Jags to strike.

Huey scored the opening run of the game off an RBI single. Two batters later, Thompson drew a bases-loaded walk to make the lead 2-0 at the end of the inning.

After a one-two-three bottom of the third, Spain Park got the ball rolling once again thanks to a Charles single followed by another hit by pitch.

While the next batter struck out, Bennett hit a first-pitch RBI single to left that took the lead to three runs.

Huey then made that three runs off two pitches as she plated two runs with a double off the next pitch, which was her second run-scoring hit of the game and put the Jags up 5-0.

From there, Ussery controlled the game in the circle and only allowed one hit the rest of the way, a sixth-inning double that was the lone Austin hit in five innings.

With her performance preserving the shutout, she fittingly struck out the final batter of the game to send Spain Park to Oxford.

Just like against Bob Jones, Ussery took the save with five shutout innings while allowing one hit and four walks and Young earned the win behind two shutout innings with two hits and a walk providing the only blemishes.

Huey’s two RBI hits were part of a 3-for-4 game at the plate with three RBI. Charles went 2-for-3 with a run and Daniel was a perfect 2-for-2 with a run.

Spain Park will now look to finish its quest for a state championship at the Class 7A state tournament on Monday, May 13 at Choccolocco Park in Oxford.