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So Close To Sweep: Lady Riders pull through late to split with Blossoms


MONTICELLO — Pitching depth is something the Arkansas-Monticello softball team does not have this season.

The two-woman staff of Courtney Wilson and Katie Slaughter was already the smallest staff head coach Alvy Early could remember having in his 18 years of coaching at UAM. Then earlier this week, the Cotton Blossoms found out Wilson has mononucleosis. Early said the earliest the senior could be back is April 4.

The news meant Slaughter, a junior, would be the lone pitcher for at least the next six games.

The first two of those games came Tuesday in a Great American Conference doubleheader against Southern Arkansas at Blossoms Field.

Slaughter pitched valiantly and earned a run-rule win in the opener but coughed up a late lead in the second game as UAM split with SAU, 10-2 (five innings) and 9-8.

“She had a good first game,” Early said of Slaughter. “But as you saw, she gave up all nine runs in the last three innings, the fifth, sixth and seventh.

“Maybe being tired made her miss her spots, because the two home runs (in the sixth inning) were hangers.

“It always seems like they hit those for home runs against us. Anytime we hang one there, they never hit it for a single. … But I think fatigue might have had something to do with it.”

In the opening game, Slaughter held the Lady Muleriders (18-14, 13-9 GAC) to three hits and one walk with five strikeouts.

Offensively, UAM (20-15, 11-11) pounded out 16 hits off SAU’s Shelby Miller (7-7).

UAM led just 4-2 after three frames, but a two-run fourth inning and a four-run fifth helped the Blossoms end the game early.

“You couldn’t draw it up any better,” Early said of the opener. “For us to get out to an early lead and make it end early as a run-rule game, I really thought that would help us.”

Well, it seemed to help Slaughter early in the second game as she cruised through the first four innings scattering four hits as UAM built a 4-0 lead.

Slaughter (9-7) ran into trouble in the fifth inning when Brooke Goad pulled a two-run homer over the right field wall to slice the deficit in half.

The worst was still to come for Slaughter, though, as the Austin, Texas, native allowed a pair of home runs in the sixth inning. A two-run shot by Chelsea Ivy to left-centerfield knotted the score before a three-run jack by Maddie Dow gave SAU a 7-4 lead.

The Blossoms fought back and Early said he wasn’t surprised.

“We’ve done that a couple other times,” Early said. “I can’t tell you exactly what games or exactly against who, but these girls have been resilient.

“We’ve come back and pulled some games out and had some walkoffs.”

SAU coach Corey Lyon pulled starting pitcher Miranda Cuff with one out and runners at second and third in the bottom of the sixth.

Taylor Clifton (2-1) came in and promptly struck out Taylor Norris, but Hannah Pendley and McKenzie Rice hit RBI singles to tie the game.

Following an error, Kali Piha slapped a single up the middle to plate Rice and give UAM the 8-7 lead heading to the seventh inning.

Just three outs away from an incredibly impressive sweep, the Blossoms couldn’t close the deal.

Sarah Higginbotham led off the inning with a single. Lindsey Wallace came in to pinch-run and immediately stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Brittany Eitel.

Wallace came in on a sacrifice fly by Audrey Farfan to tie the score.

Darian Harris followed with a double and Brittney Johnson came on to run for her. Slaughter got Taylor Guin to pop out, but Ivy roped a single past the third baseman to bring in Johnson.

UAM had the chance to answer in the bottom of the frame, but Miller came on and set the Blossoms down in order to earn her sixth save of the season.

“We could have won both games,” Early said. “We had a good comeback to take the lead and we were three outs away.

“But when the leadoff hitter gets on, well, it makes it tougher for sure.

“It’s tough, because we hit the ball well. I mean we had 16 hits in the first game and they out hit us in the second, but we still had 11 hits. You get 27 hits and 18 runs and have a split.

“You can see it comes down to pitching.”