Prep Softball Playoffs Lady Bearcats down 3 opponents, punch ticket back to state title series | CullmanSense

Prep Softball Playoffs

Lady Bearcats down 3 opponents, punch ticket back to state title series

Cullman is in the Elite Eight of Class 6A for the third consecutive season under coach Stephanie Conner
Johnny Thornton

Cullman High School Principal Kim Hall, left, and Cullman High School Vice Principal and Athletic Director Mark Stephens, right, flank the team and their coaches following the victory.

HUNTSVILLE - Cullman softball overcame a scary injury to pitcher Olivia Schwaiger, silencing those who doubted them when their backs were up against the wall. A busy day of playing in the AHSAA North Regional at the Metro Sportsplex ended in celebration of a 10-7 victory over Athens that gave the Lady Bearcats the No. 2 position as the regional qualifier behind undefeated Hazel Green. This will be the team's third straight trip to the state title series.

Cullman entered Friday's assignment, coming off an extra inning loss to Athens with Schwaiger in Huntsville Hospital suffering from concussion-like symptoms after she was struck by a throw in the bottom of the seventh inning of Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Golden Eagles in nine innings.

Cullman coach Stephanie Conner told The Tribune Schwaiger was released from the hospital Friday afternoon and returned to her home with her family. She is out for the rest of the season Conner said.

With everything to gain and nothing to lose, Cullman went out and accomplished the task of winning. It started at 9 a.m. when the Lady Bearcats used a great outing by Sierra Easterwood, replacing Schwaiger in the circle, to shut out No. 2 ranked Oxford 3-0, eliminating them from the tournament.

Facing an upstart Fort Payne team in the early afternoon, Cullman got timely hits and runs and rode another stout effort by Easterwood in a 5-0 shutout against their rival from Area 14.

Athens had lost to Hazel Green 9-2 and seemed to be fresher than Cullman when the two met with a trip to Montgomery hanging on the outcome.

Athens led 1-0 when Mary Anderson began the game with a single, stole second, moved to third on an illegal pitch by Easterwood and scored on a sac fly from Olivia Patton.

Cullman answered in its half of the first as Easterwood led off with a single, moved to second on a single from Bailey Swann and scored on a one-out single by Hannah Morton.

The Lady 'Cats took the lead in their half of the second thanks to a single by Faith Guest that was followed by a two-run homer from Easterwood and a solo blast by Swann for a 4-1 advantage.

Athens closed to 4-2 with a run in the third on a double by Patton, scoring Lexie Vaughn, who led off with a single.

Cullman moved out to a 5-2 advantage in the fifth on a solo blast by Meredith McPherson. She hit a 3-1 curve ball deep to left-center, the third home run in the game by a Cullman hitter.

The lead didn't last. A double by Sarah Green to start the sixth led to Green scoring on a ground out by Anna Carder. Kaitlyn Scruggs was safe on a fielding error, then raced home when Hannah Morris took a 1-1 pitch from Easterwood and blasted over left field to make the score 5-5.

A key play for Cullman gave them momentum they needed in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Keslynn Grimmett laid down a perfect bunt in front of the plate for a single and moved to second on a base hit by Easterwood.

Swann cracked a double, scoring Grimmett to break the tie and Cullman got into a hitting groove. McKensi Burks doubled home Easterwood to extend the lead to 7-5. Morton singled in Swann and Burks scored when the ball was misplayed by the center fielder. Cullman went up 9-5.

Tiffani Schwaiger laced a single to right with Morton coming in to make it a 10-5 advantage. Cullman produced six consecutive hits, two extra base hits, and Athens never knew what hit them.

Athens never gave up. Anderson opened the seventh with a single and moved to second on a stolen base. After Patton grounded out to Easterwood, Green crushed a two-run homer and the Golden Eagles were down 10-7.

But Easterwood stayed tough in the circle, getting Scruggs to ground out to her, and ended the game when Morris lined out to right. Cullman avenged its only loss in the regional and accepted the plaque as the No. 2 qualifier from the regional.

Conner knew the potential of her team and the need to make plays, especially at the plate as they did in the sixth. "We knew when we had to step up. Everything was against us. We went out there and fought. We were not going to be denied. Now it's time to go win a state championship."

Cullman is in the Elite Eight of Class 6A for the third consecutive season under Conner. The Lady 'Cats have 25 wins on the year and are 7-1 in the month of May.

The 6A state games will be Wednesday and Thursday in Montgomery at Lagoon Park. Game times and opponents will be announced after the weekend.

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  • Johnny Thornton
    Cullman High School Principal Kim Hall hugs coach Stephanie Conner after the game.
  • Johnny Thornton