By Bret McCormick
Clover may have been perceived as the underdog in the Class AAAA Upper State softball championship, but the Blue Eagles took a bat to that idea Saturday afternoon in a 10-1 bashing of the Byrnes Rebels. Shea Hall's team broke open a 0-0 tie with five runs in the third inning and never looked back in advancing to a Monday matchup at Boiling Springs in the winner's half of the four-team bracket.
We're the underdogs and I think a lot of people are just underestimating us, Hall said afterward.
They won't be next week. The Blue Eagle bats produced 14 hits from throughout the order. Katie Robinson, an eighth grader, appeared to be making her case to be Clover's leadoff batter, as she led off both the third and fourth innings with a double, jump-starting the Blue Eagles' offensive outbursts in both frames. Robinson's output came in just her ninth varsity game of the season, but is typical of a Clover squad with just three seniors playing beyond its collective years.
Coming from somebody still in middle school, said Clover shortstop Marisa Harkey, that was amazing. She was the one that got us fired up.
I think sometimes, 'why haven't I had her up here with us all year?' Hall said, referring to Robinson. We wanted her to stay down and get some experience, and we tried to get her at-bats and we took her to scrimmages and pulled her up for eight varsity games. But that was huge, just to start us up.
Clover hung five on Byrnes in the third inning, with Robinson's double building the momentum. Paige Wallert's sac bunt moved Robinson to the corner and Brittany Rhinehart's squibbed single up the middle brought her in to make it 1-0. Brooke Rhinehart then got on with a single and stole second, putting runners in scoring position, before Blake Wallert whistled a shot down the left field line, scoring two runs for a 3-0 lead.
Confidence pulsed from batter to batter, and Clover kept the run going as Harkey teed off on a Bailey Pearson pitch, driving the ball over the wall in centerfield to make it 5-0.
We started getting base hits and wanting to get everybody in, said Harkey. It was just a chain reaction.
Clover pitcher Elizabeth Edmunds got Byrnes to ground into three consecutive outs in the top of the fourth, sending the Blue Eagles bats back to the plate. They obliged with three more runs, and again it was Robinson pushing the gas. She doubled off the foot of the centerfield fence, and Paige Wallert, the No. 9 hitter, singled to put two girls on, chasing Byrnes' Pearson from the mound in the process. She was replaced by Regan Messenger who was able to stanch the bleeding, but not before Brittany Rhinehart singled in a run, and Blake Wallert knocked in two more runs with a one-run single compounded by a Byrnes fielding miscue in the outfield.
They just kept building from inning to inning, said Rebels coach Brandi Aiken. They took it and ran with it, and we didn't really get it started.
Edmunds, the sophomore, had a lot to do with that. She was throwing high the first two innings, but honed in on the strike zone the remaining five to limit the Rebels to just two hits.
I think in her head on days when she feels she's off just a little bit, she's still good, Hall said. That's what makes her a good pitcher. She's hard on herself and she expects a lot of herself.
The Blue Eagles threatened to end the game in just five innings when Brooke Rhinehart (part of three pairs of sisters on the Clover team) singled in a pair of runs, but Byrnes survived the fifth when Messenger got Blake Wallert to pop out.
The Rebels reached the Upper State championship Wednesday by scoring five runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh against Blythewood, but there was no coming back at Clover on Saturday. Edmunds mowed down the first two Byrnes batters in the top of the seventh then elicited yet another ground ball that her infield handled cleanly to end the game.
They made adjustments to our pitching at that time that we didn't make to theirs, Aiken said.
Byrnes 0;0;0;0;0;1;0- 1;2;3
Clover 0;0;5;3;2;0;X- 10;14;1
WP- Edmunds; LP- Pearson. Leading hitters: Byrnes- Duggar 1-2; Burnett 1-2; Clover- K. Robinson 3-4, 2 2Bs; Harkey 1-4, HR, 2 RBI; B. Wallert 2-4, 3B, 3 RBI; Bri. Rhinehart 2-3, 2 RBI, HBP; P. Wallert 1-1, 2 sac bunts.
Records: Clover 26-4; Byrnes 23-6
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T