CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College softball capped its incredible eight-day run in style Saturday with a split against Allen County Community College, falling 7-4 in Game One before rallying for a 4-3 walk-off victory in Game Two, to guarantee their sophomores one more chance to step between the lines of their home diamond.
The T-Birds (19-19 overall, 12-12 Region VI), who were at one point 10-17 back on April 13, vaulted themselves up to seventh place in the Region VI standings with wins in eight of their past 10 games to clinch a first-round home playoff series in the Region VI DII District D Softball Championships slated for next Saturday and Sunday.
"It feels great. The girls understood the significance and just kept continuously working," said Cloud County head coach, Aaron Acree. "Our girls stayed competitive and kept the belief that we were going to come through. That's kind of become second nature for us the last couple weeks. Hats off to the girls because they found a way to win."
The right to host a first-round series didn't come easy as Allen County (21-24 overall, 14-10 Region VI) took the first game, 7-4, and held a 3-2 lead, with its ace Sierra Thompson in the pitcher's circle, through six innings of Game Two.
Cloud County got to Thompson in the seventh inning, though, as the T-Birds loaded the bases with no outs on a pair of walks sandwiched around a throwing error on an attempted sacrifice bunt.
Freshman outfielder Shania Schraad pulled Cloud County even again at 3-3 with a sacrifice fly to score Alyssa Corpus, while also allowing sophomore catcher Kayla West and freshman Kelsey Bowers to move up a base.
One batter later, freshman third baseman Payton Gillen pushed a single up the middle past Allen County's diving second baseman to score West and seal the 4-3 victory.
"Big time at-bats from two freshmen," said Acree of Schraad and Gillen, who finished 2-for-4 from the leadoff spot. "We knew what we had to do. We talked about it in our huddle. Shania did a great job executing the sac fly and Kayla read it to get over to third as well. Then Payton's single to win it, staying up the middle, is what we've worked on all season."
The walk-off also put a stamp of the first win of the season in the circle by freshman Alyssa Corpus, who delivered her best start of the season with ace Jordan Ummel battling soreness and unable to throw.
Corpus outdueled Thompson (6-2), finishing her complete-game effort with three runs allowed on seven hits, no walks, and a strikeout.
The lone blemishes against Corpus were two missed locations that went for a solo and a two-run home run for Allen County to account for its scoring.
"She did a great job today. She worked ahead in the count and kept Allen's stud, Winter Henry (0-for-4), off the bases," said Acree of Corpus. "She delivered for us (Saturday). She looked like a totally different girl and pitched with confidence. We told her before the game 'We need you today.'"
Despite not being able to pitch, Ummel played a key role in helping the T-Birds on Saturday as she finished 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI singles. Outfielder Autumn Adams was 2-for-3 on Sophomore Day, as well.
As for Game One, Cloud County nearly punched its ticket for a first-round home series in the opener as it rallied from a 7-0 deficit to put the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh.
The T-Birds scored all four of their runs in the sixth inning, the big blow being a two-run single by Bowers.
Dinkel drove a ball to the front edge of the warning track in left field to end the ballgame.
The loss became a moot point after the walk-off win in Game Two, which will send the T-Birds sprinting into the Region VI DII District D Softball Championships next weekend after they conclude the regular season on Tuesday with a pair of non-conference road games against Southeast Community College.
Game times are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.