SPRING GARDEN – Spring Garden softball coach Ann Welsh is always stressing to her team to add more runs and never be comfortable with the lead.
Thursday’s home game against Ranburne was one of those games she’s always saying that.
Behind third baseman Kayley Kirk’s third inning grand slam to left center field, the Lady Panthers built an 8-0 edge before Ranburne made things a little interesting. The Lady Bulldogs scored four runs in the top of the fourth and three more in the top of the sixth, but Spring Garden was able to hold on for a 13-7 win.
“They put a little pressure on us, but I thought we handled it well,” Welsh said. “We didn’t seem to get beside ourselves, but there are things we could’ve controlled in that ball game. I feel like we may have given them some of their runs. That’s something we’ve got to deal with.”
The Lady Panthers (20-6) did what Welsh asked, and that was continuing to add runs. They scored at least one run in each inning. They took a 2-0 lead in the second after scoring a pair of unearned runs, but then batted around in the third – highlighted by Kirk’s grand slam.
Kirk, who went 3-for-4 and drove in five runs, fouled off the previous pitch before she straightened it out all the way to the softball batting cage building.
“The one I fouled off, I just felt the adrenaline coming. It felt good coming off the bat,” Kirk said. “It seemed like it was the same pitch. It definitely helped my confidence.”
“That was big,” Welsh said of Kirk’s grand slam, which was also her first home run of the season. “She hit real well early on in the season, and she’s hit here and there. The last week or so, she’s struggled a little bit, but I thought she hit great every at-bat tonight. She hit hard. She’s had so many close hits (to getting over the fence). That was big for it to be a grand slam. She’s overcome a lot and getting better. She’s learning to move (with her knee brace) and letting go a little bit, not being so nervous. Maybe that helped her out a little bit.”
Ranburne responded by sending 10 batters to the plate in the top of the fourth against Lady Panther starting pitcher Kylie-Grace Wood. Wood issued four walks in the inning, but the big blow came from the bat of left fielder Emilee Lambert. Lambert delivered a two-run double to center. First baseman Makenzie Heath later added a run-scoring single to center. Wood walked in the other Lady Bulldog run.
Spring Garden got one of those runs back on a sacrifice fly to left by designated hitter Madison Brown that scored shortstop Neely Welsh to make it a 9-4 game. Welsh walked to lead off the inning. She finished the game going 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles to right field and a walk.
Wood was relieved in the circle by eighth grader Avery Steward in the top of the fifth. Steward held the Lady Bulldogs scoreless in the inning.
The Lady Panthers pushed across another run in the bottom half to make the score 10-4, but then Ranburne made a second surge at the plate. The Lady Bulldogs scored three runs, including two on a single to center by pitcher Blair Forsyth. Blair’s base knock cut Spring Garden’s lead to 10-7.
But Spring Garden countered with three runs in the bottom half to stretch its lead back out six runs.
Abbey Stewart slammed the door on Ranburne in the top of the seventh. She retired the Lady Bulldogs in order, including a pair of strikeouts to end the game.
“I think it was good to have KG (Wood) and Avery pitching and going through some of that,” Coach Welsh said. “(Friday) we’re going to play three games, and when you get to regionals, it’s hot. Abbey’s our go-to, but if something were to happen, the others have got to get in there and be able to deal with certain situations. I felt like they had some tonight, but I felt like we dealt with them pretty well.”
Wood earned the win in the circle. She was also 3-for-4 at the plate.
Catcher Maggie Jarrett went 3-for-3 with a walk at the plate for the Lady Panthers. Left fielder Abbie Woods was 2-for-4 with a double. Second baseman Ace Austin also finished with a double.
Center fielder Natalie Merrill, Lambert and Heath each went 2-for-3 for the Lady Bulldogs. Merrill also walked. Forsyth suffered the loss.
As Coach Welsh said, the Lady Panthers play in a tournament at Sand Mountain Park in Albertville on Friday afternoon. They’ll face Dale County at 4 p.m., followed by Curry and Rogers at 5:30 and 7 p.m.