MOUNT CARMEL -- One bad inning. That's what separated Mount Carmel's softball team between a win and a loss against a quality Hamilton County team.
The Foxes errupted for four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, which appeared to make the difference in the game and leading to a dramatic 10-7 victory over Mount Carmel on Wednesday evening at the Fourth Street Field in Mount Carmel.
Boasting a 3-2 lead entering the bottom of the fourth inning, Lady Aces pitcher freshman Kami Pearson was throwing a solid outing. Pearson had pitched 3 2-3 innings, having the Foxes (9-3) down to their last out of the inning, then disaster happened. Hamilton County seized the lead at 4-3 after a two RBI double and would expand it to 6-3 by the end of the inning, with some Lady Ace defensive mishaps assisting the Foxes.
"We go, leadoff walk, which is killer, they get those girls on and they're not earning it, which hurts a little bit, but even still, you get two outs and [they] still hadn't scored yet," Mount Carmel head softball coach Kyle Buss spoke of the fourth inning. "I don't even know if they were errors, but they're plays we have to make to get our pitcher out of there and out of a tough spot."
Pearson rebounded well in the fifth inning, retiring the Hamilton County hitters in order, but the damage was done and a major momentum shift was in the air.
Hamilton County's pitching picked up where their hitting left off, retiring the Lady Aces and not allowing a hit in the fourth or fifth innings.
In the top of the sixth Pearson allowed a leadoff double and was replaced by sophomore Faith Fuller on the mound and ending Pearson's day. Pearson threw five innings, allowed 13 hits, seven runs, but just one earned. Fuller retired the first batter, but a few Mount Carmel errors allowed the Foxes to score three additional runs, expanding the lead to 9-3. Though they faced a deficit, Buss kept echoing a singular message to his players, keep battling.
"It's one of those things where I'm confident we can score with anybody," Buss said. "I told them if we get one run, two runs, five runs, six runs, it doesn't matter because we're good enough to hit and score. We got [some] in the last inning, got the tying run to the plate. They're just a group that keeps battling and battling, I know they can get hits when they need to. We just need to clean it up defensively."
Desperately needing some sort of spark from their hitters, junior Lexi Ballard knocked an RBI bloop single to right field, scoring freshman Avary Daum and cutting the deficit down to 9-4. Junior Addie Drone followed with an RBI single of her own, reducing it down to a 9-5 lead as the inning came to an end.
In the top of the seventh the Foxes added an insurance run, which ended up being vastly important in the outcome.
Down to their final inning, Mount Carmel's bats rose to the occasion in the bottom of the seventh. Three quick singles loaded the bases with just one out and suddenly the game was back to being a nail-biter. Junior Libby Schneider drove in the first run of the inning with a single and reducing the lead down to 10-6 with the bases still loaded. Ballard went to the plate and nearly had a bases clearing double, but the liner down the right field line was ruled foul. She later struck out.
With the game on the line, Drone slashed an RBI single past the shortstop, bringing the Lady Aces within three at 10-7. Freshman Mackenzie Sisson stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and the opportunity to end it with one swing. Unfortunately Sisson popped up to the first baseman on the first pitch, ending the threat and the game.
Mount Carmel's bats were led by Pearson finishing 2-for-3 with a run, sophomore Sierra Hannah going 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and a run, Daum's 2-for-2 line with a run, Drone's 2-for-3 day with a pair of RBIs, Fuller went 1-for-4 with an RBI and scored a run, Schneider was 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run and Ballard finished 1-for-4 with an RBI.
Fuller pitched two innings in relief, allowing three runs, none earned on two hits, while fanning one batter.
Though games such as this can be frustrating, this Mount Carmel group doesn't have a single senior on its roster. They have four juniors, a couple sophomores and the rest freshman. It's a young, but very talented group.
"I'm frustrated because I know how good we can be and when we lose games like this, that we're capable of winning," Buss said. "It's frustrating because yes, they're young, but they're also really, really good. These are games we have to start finding little ways to make plays here, make plays there and to get a W in a game like that."
The Lady Aces (4-3) will have a couple opportunities to bounce back this weekend, first at Red Hill on Friday at 4:30 p.m., then a road match against Harrisburg on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m.
Mount Carmel batting: Pearson 2-for-3, R. Hannah 2-for-4, 2B, RBI, R. Daum 2-for-2, R. Drone 2-for-3, 2 RBIs. Fuller 1-for-4, RBI, R. Schneider 1-for-4, RBI, R. Ballard 1-for-4, RBI.
Lady Aces pitching: LP -- Pearson 5 IP, 7 R, 1 ER, 13 H, 1 K.