By Bret McCormick
A broken pipe that threatened to flood the home dugout was about the only blemish on a nearly perfect Wednesday for Clover softball. The Blue Eagles beat Hillcrest, the defending Class AAAA state champs, 4-1 to win the District 3 championship and advance to the Upper State tournament that starts Saturday.
“We're just enjoying this,” said Clover coach Shea Hall, whose team will face Byrnes Saturday. “We're just trying to get our name in there with the Hillcrests, with the Mauldins, with the Boiling Springs, and I think we're here.”
Hillcrest didn't have much to complain about after committing no errors and not striking out once. But Clover pitcher Elizabeth Edmunds was still dominant, duping the Rams' potent batting order into 15 groundball outs (out of 21 total). Hillcrest beat Mauldin the night prior on a walkoff home run by Sarah Stewart, a game that Hall witnessed in person, but the Rams must have left their offensive firepower behind in Greenville.
“I told the girls we gotta' limit that big inning,” said Hall. “They could get one here, one there, but we couldn't let them jump on us with three or four in an inning.”
Clover (25-4) only managed three hits, but all three went for extra bases and knocked in runners, the kind of timely batting that's been a staple of this version of the Blue Eagles. Hall has been thrilled with how loose her young team has played in crucial situations this postseason.
“I think they just approach every game like any other game,” she said. “I try not to build it up and put too much hype, because whoever we play they just want to beat them. They're not thinking about district championships or state championships. It's just 'who do we play coach?'“
Hall's team inflicted its offensive damage in the second and third innings. Clover catcher Madison Tepfenhart led off the second frame with a walk but Stewart fanned the next two Blue Eagle batters. With two outs and facing two strikes, Katie Robinson slapped a triple over the right fielder's head to score Cayman Catukas, who was courtesy running for Tepfenhart.
The hosts built on their momentum during the next inning. Brittany Rhinehart led off with a walk, then stole second base. A batter later, Blake Wallert hammered a double over the center fielder's head to score Rhinehart. Marisa Harkey followed with a triple to the foot of the left field fence that allowed Wallert to stroll home for a 3-0 lead, before Tepfenhart lofted a sacrifice fly to plate Harkey for a four-run cushion.
Edmunds' pitching ensured the lead was enough. Hillcrest teed off on Edmunds a couple of times in the two teams' matchup last Saturday, an 8-5 Clover win, but Wednesday the sophomore hurler was focused on letting her infield do the work. She got all three Hillcrest outs from groundballs in three different innings, including the seventh, to close the door on the Rams.
“She digs in and she battles and she gives us a chance to win every ballgame,” Hall said about Edmunds, who has started for Clover since her seventh grade year. “We tried to talk to her about letting her defense play and keeping that ball low. I thought she did a really good job of that tonight.”
Hillcrest 0;0;0;1;0;0;0- 1;4;0
Clover 0;1;3;0;0;0;X- 4;3;1
WP- Edmunds; LP- Stewart. Leading hitters: Hillcrest- Stewart 1-3, Trone 1-3; Clover- Harkey 1-3, RBI 3B, Tepfenhart 0-1, RBI sac fly, BB, K. Robinson 1-3, RBI 3B, B. Wallert 1-3, RBI 2B.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T