UNION — Leading 6-4 with runners on the corners in the bottom of the seventh inning, Union County’s hopes of securing the District 4 title hung in the balance as Palmetto’s Brooke Ellison drove a long fly ball into right-center field.
In a scramble to make the play, Union County outfielders Cece Moorman and Tanija Hunter roughly collided. Moorman reeled it in, though, and hung on for out number three as she and Hunter crashed to the ground just shy of the center-field fence.
“They weren’t going to let it hit the ground,” said Union County Assistant Coach Jay Allen. “I didn’t think they were going to catch it — right there in the gap, both of them giving it their all — but that’s how they’ve been all year. Nite (Hunter) gets hurt a lot because she’s wide open all the time. You couldn’t ask any more of a senior leader.”
Moorman had eliminated a potential run earlier in the game when she gunned down a runner at third base.
“That was huge,” said Allen. “She made the play at third and then the big catch at the end of the game.”
Freshman pitcher Payton Martin tossed a complete, seven-inning game to record the win for Union County. Facing a batter who had homered against her once already, now with the tying run on first base in the final inning, Martin felt some pressure, although she handled it beautifully.
“I just tried to keep my mind on the batter and not worry about anybody on base,” she said. “I thought about my mechanics and threw my pitch.”
Ellison’s 2-run homer in the first inning gave Palmetto a 2-0 lead but Union County responded in the second with a 2-run blast of its own courtesy of Kanani Lodge. In the third inning, the Lady Jackets added three insurance runs on three hits. Ashley Vinson started the rally with a hit to right field and then scored on an RBI single by Dexlie Inman. Abby Allen fell behind in the count against Palmetto pitcher Chandler Crawford before she roped an RBI double, giving Union County a 5-3 advantage.
“I like hitting low in the count,” said Allen. “Everybody always says pitchers try to get ahead so it feels good to win that battle.”
“But it was other hits that really got us going,” she added. “Kanani’s home run really picked us up and gave us a lot of momentum.”
Palmetto made it a 5-3 ballgame in the bottom of the fourth but the Lady Jackets answered with a run in the fifth when Allen doubled and scored on an RBI double by Vinson.
Palmetto attempted to mount a comeback in the seventh with an RBI single that cut the lead to two runs but Union County put it to bed on the next play.
The Lady Jackets are set to face the winner of Friday’s Blue Ridge/Seneca game on the road Monday in the first round of upperstate playoffs. A win will bring them back home to host the second round on Wednesday.
Sports Editor, Tiffany Grady-Hudgins can be reached by cell at (864) 251-4330 or by e-mail at email@example.com.