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April 21, 2014

Cardinals overcome offensive woes to remain unbeaten

COCHRANTON — Abby Clulow is confident that sooner or later the bats are going to come alive for the Cochranton softball team. She is also pretty confident that until then the Lady Cardinals will continue to find a way to get the job done.

After all, how could she feel any differently?

Clulow reached on an infield hit and eventually came around to score on a fielder’s choice by Sam Kinter in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Cardinals to a 1-0 win over Maplewood on Monday in Region 3 softball action.

It was the second time in as many games that the Cardinals scored the game-winning run or runs in their final at-bat.

Cochranton scored two runs in the top of the seventh for a 2-0 win over Cambridge Springs on Thursday.

The Cardinals also have a 2-1 non-region win over Conneaut in which they scored the eventual game-winning runs in the sixth inning.

“We’re trying,” Clulow said. “Really. I don’t even know what’s happening at the plate right now. We’re getting contact, we’re just not getting the hits when we need them.

“We just have no luck. It seems like the softball gods are against us.”

Maybe that is so in the early innings. But the Cardinals are figuring out a way to win them late. They did it again in a big way against the Tigers, a half-inning after getting out of a bases-loaded no-out jam in the top of the ninth inning.

Again, a credit to the pitching of Natalie Brock and stellar defense behind her.

Both Brock and Maplewood pitcher Brianna Scott were outstanding Monday afternoon at Cochranton High School. The two combined to allow just four hits through five innings with seven strikeouts. It wasn’t until the sixth inning that either team had more than one runner reach base safely.

Savanah Philips reached on a one-out single and Maddy Nicols followed with an infield single to give the Tigers the first real opportunity to score a run. But Brock coaxed a pop-up and a groundout for the final two outs to leave Philips and Nicols stranded.

The Tigers struck again in the top of the ninth inning.

Nicols started off the inning with a rope to deep centerfield for a double and advanced to third on a single by Ruth Fultz that brought Brianna Proudfoot to the plate. Proudfoot laid down a bunt and the Cardinals opted to make the throw to third base in an attempt to catch Nicols too far off the bag. Nicols and Proudfoot were both safe, loading the bases.

Two pop-ups and a groundout later and the score was still tied at 0-0.

“I think just getting out of that motivated us to hit,” Clulow said. “Everybody was pumped up from that.”

It was Clulow that got things started for the Cardinals. The speedster beat out a slap on a call that drew groans from the Maplewood sideline. Mackenzie Hawley followed with a shot up the third base line that was just fair for a double, giving the Cardinals runners at second and third with one out and their cleanup hitter due up at the plate.

Kinter hit a grounder to first base sending Clulow home. Maplewood attempted to make the play at home, but Clulow beat the throw to give the Cardinals the win.

“There is nothing more they could have done,” Maplewood coach Hannah Borkovich said of her team’s effort. “I can’t ask them to do any more than what they did. Maybe next time.”

Scott pitched perhaps the best game of her career in the loss. She threw 8 1/3 innings and allowed five hits with no walks and six strikeouts. She went toe-to-toe with the region’s hottest, Brock, who allowed seven hits and no walks with four strikeouts through nine innings.

“Natalie is a wonderful pitcher,” Borkovich said. “Wonderful pitcher. She gets ahead. She hits her spots. She does really well. And you saw today what Brianna can do.

“I have absolute, full confidence in Brianna Scott on the mound, if not more confidence than I have had in any other person who goes out there. When she’s on, she’s on. And, today, she threw a great game.”

Philips and Nicols both had two hits each for the Tigers. Hawley was 3-for-4 for the Cardinals with two doubles. Katelyn Neff and Brittany Jackson doubled.

Cochranton improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Region 3. The Cardinals have allowed just one run this season.

Maplewood dropped to 1-3 overall and 1-2 in the region.

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