MOULTON — A look of confidence showing through her mask, Ashton Malcom stepped into the pitcher’s circle and stared down the day’s biggest challenge.
All the Lawrence County High pitcher needed was three outs. But in a pressure-filled championship game, and the heart of Hatton’s lineup coming to the plate, retiring the side is easier said than done.
Score one for the crafty right-hander with a mean curveball.
Like she had done throughout the day, Malcom got Hatton to swing at tough off-speed pitches, retiring the side in order as Lawrence County completed a tough tournament comeback by beating the Hornets 2-1 on Saturday in an eight-inning county title game.
Lawrence County (13-5) played its way through the losers’ bracket after dropping the tournament opener to Hatton 2-0 on Friday, and the Red Devils had to beat the Class 2A No. 1 Hornets (11-2) twice in the championship round, winning the first game 3-2.
“My curveball was working,” Malcom said. “I felt like I could put it right where I wanted it. And when we’re getting groundballs, like we were today, I always like our chances because, in my opinion, I’ve got one of the best defenses anyone could ask for behind me. They’re the ones who make me look good.”
When second baseman Tori McDaniel caught a flyball for the final out, there wasn’t a euphoric celebration in front of the overflow crowd — even though satisfaction showed through the Red Devils’ smiles.
Players and coaches posed for pictures with the championship trophy, but the setting was mild.
There’s a reason why.
With these two state softball powers, that are loaded with future college players, mutual respect is an important aspect of the rivalry. According to Malcom, at least 10 members of the two teams grew up playing softball together with the LC Pride travel softball program.
Between the two teams, 12 players either have signed or given a commitment to a college softball program.
“Yeah, winning the county championship is a big deal, but we didn’t go crazy and celebrate because our coaches are always telling us to act like we’ve been here before,” Malcom said. “Plus, we have a lot of respect for Hatton.”
There are plenty of friendly vibes away from the field, but these rivals step inside the lines, competition is fierce.
That didn’t change in a salty Lawrence County tournament championship round.
It took two gritty pitching duels and 15 innings to determine a champion.
This time, Malcom got the best of Hatton star Hillary Carpenter — a three-time Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 2A pitcher of the year.
In the tournament final, Malcom gave up five hits while striking out one.
Lawrence County needed the strong pitching performance. After Hatton’s Mariah Cantrell drove in Victoria Crumpton with an RBI single in the third inning to tie the score, Carpenter retired 10 of the next 14 batters she faced.
Carpenter gave up nine hits while striking out four.
Lawrence County finally pieced together a couple of clutch hits in the top of the eighth when Whitney Woodard drove in MacKenzie HIll with an RBI double — the eventual game-winner.
“I had a lot of confidence when I went to the plate — just relaxed and hit the ball,” Woodard said. “When we scored that run, I knew it was over because Ashton was going to finish the job. She pitched great today.”
Contact Justin Graves at 256-340-2460 or by email at email@example.com.
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