By Bret McCormick
Clover held off Northwestern 3-1 Thursday night in the first round of the Class AAAA softball playoffs. With stud sophomore pitchers Elizabeth Edmunds (Clover) and Kori Wancheck (Northwestern) on the bump, runs were at a premium and it was the Blue Eagles who were able to scratch out enough offense, while remaining airtight in the field.
“That's what we pride ourselves on all season, just making some good defensive plays,” said Clover coach Shea Hall, “and we were able to muster up enough. We haven't been able to score a whole lot off of Kori all year, but tonight three was enough.”
Wancheck held the Blue Eagles to just five hits and two of the three runs she allowed were unearned. She limited Clover to just three combined runs in the two teams' regular season region meetings, both Blue Eagle wins, but on Thursday night Hall's team was able to resist Wancheck's low and high heat.
“We tried not to chase too many of her pitches,” said Edmunds, who dashed away after the game to get to choraliers practice.
Thursday night Edmunds pitched like she had somewhere to go. She worked with a purpose, relying on her defense behind her to make outs. The Blue Eagle gloves obliged, committing just one error, while Edmunds allowed just four hits and an unearned run. Northwestern only committed a pair of errors, but they came at the worst time, costing the Trojans two runs in the bottom of the third that proved to be the difference.
“We stressed to the girls that usually in a tight the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins,” said Northwestern coach Bryan Smith, “and today it was Clover.”
A towering RBI sac fly by Blake Wallert put the host Blue Eagles in front in the bottom of the first, but Northwestern pulled even in the top of the second. A throwing error, hit batter and wild pitch brought Morgan Myers around to tie the score.
Northwestern's most costly miscue popped up in the bottom half of the third. After Wancheck got two quick outs, Clover's rally started with Wallert drawing a walk, before Marisa Harkey singled and Madison Tepfenhart drew a second walk to load the bases.
Things then got rough for Smith's club. Emily Robinson put the ball in play and the throw to first base sailed, allowing two runs to score and Clover to snatch the lead. Edmunds' single reloaded the bases, but Wancheck got a ground ball to get out of the inning without further damage.
The game, which only took 1 hour, 20 minutes to complete, hummed along into the top of the sixth when the Trojans seemed to have accrued positive momentum. Their dugout hooted and hollered chants all game, and they were in full throat when Cassie Wancheck chopped a ball over the third baseman into left field for a leadoff double. With her sister Kori – she of the .415 batting average, five home runs and 26 RBIs – up to bat, Northwestern had its chance.
But Edmunds rose to the occasion, eliciting a pop fly that Clover caught in foul territory for the out, and the younger Wancheck later got caught in a rundown to sap the Trojans' momentum.
“That's always a big relief because she's such a good hitter,” Edmunds said about her Trojan pitching counterpart. “If I can get her to pop up then that's a definite, big help.”
Clover shut Northwestern down in the seventh and will host Hillcrest at 6 p.m. on Friday in the District 3 second round. Northwestern will travel to Mauldin Friday at 6:30 p.m. for an elimination game. As they packed up their gear Thursday evening, the Trojans were again left to rue a chance to beat Clover slipping through their grasp.
“We're right there; we're one or two plays away,” Smith said.
Northwestern 0;1;0;0;0;0;0- 1;4;2
Clover 1;0;2;0;0;0- 3;5;1
WP- Elizabeth Edmunds; LP- Kori Wancheck. Leading hitters: Northwestern- Cassie Wancheck 2-2, 2 2Bs, sac bunt; Clover- Blake Wallert 0-1, RBI sac fly, BB, Brittany Rhinehardt 2-3.
Records: Clover 23-4; Northwestern 12-10.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T