Mills’ blast carries Spartans past Lady Raiders
A three-run home run by Abbey Mills in the top of the fifth inning propelled the South Warren softball team to a 4-0 shutout win over archrival Warren East on Tuesday evening at Phil Burkeen Field.
As the last meeting between the two sides played out to be a slugfest – one in which the Spartans won 13-12 in eight innings – that wasn’t the case this time around. The District 14, Region 4 foes played four scoreless frames until South Warren (11-3 overall, 5-0 District 14) broke through in the fifth.
“That first time we played them, it was like a slugfest,” South Warren coach Kelly Reynolds said. “This time it was more of a pitcher’s duel until right there at the top of the fifth. We led off with a hit in our No. 8 hole, and it just kind of took off from there. Abbey Mills comes up with that home run, which was huge.”
Mills, whose blast proved to be the difference, said she and her teammates knew what to expect in the second meeting between the Lady Raiders as opposed to the April 12 matchup. Because of that and a few other changes, the Spartans were able to change the overall style in Game 2.
“I think we kind of knew what our competition was this time,” Mills said. “We didn’t really know what we were expecting last time. We’ve been working on our defense at practice a lot, and I think that really helped tonight. We had a couple errors last game and this time we did a lot better.”
With the Spartans’ regular-season sweep over Warren East (13-2, 5-2) – and a win at Greenwood on Wednesday – they will clinch the No. 1 seed in the District 14 Tournament, which will take place later this month.
Despite being shutout, the Lady Raiders had plenty of opportunities to add a run to their side of the scoreboard. East outhit South Warren 8-4 and had a handful of two-on, one-out situations, but stranded eight runners and could never scratch one across.
Warren East coach Phillip McKinney called Tuesday’s contest “one of a more traditional Warren East-South Warren softball game,” and said that his team just didn’t have the at-bats it needed in order to come out on top.
“We were looking at the possibility of going to the seventh tied 0-0,” McKinney said. “I thought we had some opportunities. A little disappointed with our at-bats in the first three or four innings. I thought our at-bats a little bit later were better, but still overall not real happy with our at-bats tonight.”
Along with Mills’ hit and three RBI, Jessica Bush recorded a hit and an RBI. Defensively, Taylor Enlow started on the mound for the Spartans and threw five strikeouts while allowing eight hits but no runs in a complete-game fashion.
There were numerous times that Warren East was threating to score, but Enlow – and the defense behind her – were able to hold them off each and every time.
“Coach Reynolds was working me inside and out around the plate, and I just wanted to hit my spots and get through the batters,” Enlow said. “I just didn’t want them to score. I believed in my defense and they really pulled through for me. I just wanted to come through with a big dub.”
In its setback, Warren East was led by Hailey Hymer’s 2-for-4 performance. Eighth-grader Emma Markham, who had thrown 30 scoreless innings prior to Tuesday, tossed eight strikeouts while allowing four runs with four hits in seven complete innings.
After four scoreless innings, South Warren was the one to finally break through.
With Alexis Helderman on after reaching on a single and Lauren Martin after being walked, Mills came up big. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, and after coach Reynolds called time and talked to her, Mills send a pitch over the left center field wall and gave the Spartans a 3-0 lead.
“When they called the pitcher’s meeting at the circle, coach Reynolds called me over there and was debating whether I should bunt or hit. Coach (Kathryn) Downing was like, ‘Let her hit – she’s a power hitter,’” said Mills. “I got a one-two count on me and had a runner at first and second, and I just did what I could do.”
Bush’s double in the top of the seventh plated Emma Mills and pushed South Warren’s advantage to 4-0. Enlow and the Spartans’ defense allowed two runners to get on in the bottom half of the frame, but they stranded them and earned a marquee victory.
The Spartans return to action Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Greenwood, while Warren East hosts Bowling Green at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
“The girls kept working. We couldn’t get our hits like we normally do, but it finally opened up there in the fifth inning, which was great,” said Reynolds.