MONTICELLO — Monticello softball head coach B.J. Jackson said on Wednesday that his team needed a break after all of the tough losses they have had this year.
He received a big one when starting pitcher Halley Ryburn caught a pop-up bunt and fired to first base to complete the double play to send the South’s No. 4 seed Monticello Lady Billies to the quarterfinals with a 1-0 first-round upset over the North’s No. 2 seed Booneville Lady Bearcats in the 4A state tournament.
“That was the exact same thing that happened to us the last two games,” Jackson said referring back to regionals. “In the Nashville game, we get the first out and then the girl gets a hit. Then we walked the next one and then we have an error. That double play was a sight for sore eyes.”
There was definitely a sense of déjà vu when the Lady Bearcats, batting as the home team, stepped up to the plate in the bottom half of the seventh inning with the Lady Billies leading 1-0.
Taylor Bauer led off the inning striking out and Camry Robertson roped a single to left field to put the tying run aboard as shades of regionals began to enter into the minds of Monticello.
However, in this case, the déjà vu quickly ended when Jaycie Rodatz bunted the first pitch too hard in the air as Ryburn made a great lunging play to catch it and then fired it over to senior first baseman Maggie Hand to complete the unique 1-3 double play that sent the home crowd into a loud frenzy.
“We just needed that,” Jackson said. “What else can you say? We hung around and hung around … and we made a few defensive plays, too.”
Along with helping on the final out, Hand also had a huge play in the top half of the seventh inning.
In a 0-0 pitchers duel, Monticello (19-10) had collected just one hit through seven innings. After a strikeout, Breanna Smith worked a four-pitch walk to put the go-ahead run on. After another strikeout, Hand stepped up to the plate.
“I was thinking I really have to hit the ball or my coach is going to be mad,” Hand said with a laugh.
Hand worked the count to 1-1 and on the third pitch, Smith stole second base as the throw came late. With a 1-2 count, Hand found the pitch she was looking for and hit a blooper over the shortstop’s glove into left field to score Smith from second.
“I was looking for it to be high or outside a little bit,” Hand said of her approach with two strikes. “She kind of just put it right there, it was a little high, but I hit it and went with it.”
Hand also said she knew Smith was going to score once she hit the ball and she was very grateful to be put into that situation.
“I was just thinking I can’t let my team down,” Hand said. “God has basically put us here for a reason. That count has been 0-0 this whole way and I was prepared for the rain he was about to send.
“I just hit the ball.”
Monticello was led on the mound by Ryburn who tossed a complete game allowing five hits with one walk and three strikeouts. Ashdon Ross took the tough loss for Booneville (23-7), finishing with a complete game while allowing two hits and one run (earned) with three walks and eight strikeouts.
“That little pitcher is a dandy,” Jackson said of Ross. “She’s just a dandy and we hadn’t seen nothing like her all year.”
Hope Higginbotham and Hand collected the only hits for Monticello with Hand collecting the only RBI of the game. Booneville had five players finish the day 1 for 3 as the Lady Bearcats stranded six runners in the game.
Monticello moves on to face the East’s No. 1 seed Brookland, which had a bye, with the first pitch to begin at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.