Having lost a hard-fought 5-2 game to unbeaten Northwestern on Friday, the Clover High School softball team is trying to finish strong in Region 3-AAAA and make a run deep into the playoffs.
Clover head coach Shea Hall said she is hoping this week’s participation in the Azalea Tournament in Summerville will help the Lady Cougars regain the successful formula that pushed them into the highest level in Upstate circles the last three seasons.
“Our trip to Summerville will be a good opportunity for the team to regroup and to regain its swagger,” Hall said after Friday’s loss at Northwestern.
“We want to finish strong in the region and put ourselves in a position to host a playoff game,” she said. “There is still a lot to play for.”
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Though disappointed in the loss to the No. 4-ranked Trojans, Hall said the Blue Eagles showed improvement.
“It was a close game to the end,” she said. “We made better contact against Kori (Wancheck) than we did the first time we played Northwestern, and had fewer strikeouts.
“Northwestern hit the ball in key situations. That’s what it came down to.”
Hall said several defensive miscues affected the game. “When a team has good pitching, hitting and defensive play, it will win all of its games,” she said. “Playing well in two of the three phases of the game will win some games.”
Identical twins Brooke and Brittany Rhinehardt said the Lady Blue Eagles can recapture their competitive edge. “A real key for our team is to put the ball in play and to have better communication in the field,” said Brooke Rhinehardt. “We can fix things at the Summerville Tournament and be ready to finish region play with a final push.”
Brooke, a former third-baseman now assuming a leadership role as catcher, said she is confident in her new position. “It’s a matter of making the adjustments,” she said.
Brittany Rhinehardt, a dangerous contact hitter, said, “We need to put the Northwestern loss behind us, win games in the Summerville Tournament and allow the momentum to carry over to region play when we return to Clover.”
Brittany Rhinehardt plays the oppposite side of the plate from her sister, chasing down fly balls from the outfield. “I love playing center-field,” she said.
Clover made its presence felt early in the loss to the region’s pace-setter, hitting well against Wancheck, Northwestern’s ace pitcher. The game was Wancheck’s first of the season with fewer than 10 strikeouts, as the Lady Blue Eagles held her to six.
Northwestern head coach Bryan Smith said Clover was the best hitting team the Lady Trojans have faced this season.
The Blue Eagles dotted the scoreboard in the first inning, when freshman outfielder Michelle Aragon crossed the plate after a Northwestern error.
After the Trojans knotted the score at one in the bottom of the first, the game remained tied until the Blue Eagles regained the lead in the fourth inning.
Brooke Rhinehardt drew a walk, stole second and advanced to third after Northwestern misplayed Marisa Harkey’s well-hit ball to center field. Later in the inning with runners at second and third, Clover pitcher Elizabeth Edmunds’ sacrifice fly pushed the Blue Eagles ahead 2-1.
Northwestern regained the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth, highlighted by Wancheck’s RBI single.
Clover returns to region play 7 p.m. Tuesday at Nation Ford.