For five Blythewood senior softball players, the last shot at postseason glory began Thursday on a promising note with a 5-1 victory against visiting Fort Mill in the first round of the Class 4A District IV playoffs.
As usual, Paige Hartfield, Kelly Owens, Paige Owczarzcak and Hillary Stewart - the four seniors in the starting lineup - were key contributors for the Bengals (20-7). Center fielder Tiffany Harris, the fifth senior, was a late scratch because of a migraine headache.
"As seniors, we've been through this before, but we've talked a lot more about being focused, getting the job done in the playoffs this year," said Hartfield, who had a typically productive performance from the leadoff spot.
"I don't feel any extra pressure because this is my last year."
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Hartfield fouled off six pitches and eventually drew a walk in the bottom of the first inning, stole second base, moved to third on an infield single by Owczarzcak and scored the first run on a sacrifice fly by Owens.
In the second, Hartfield drove in two runs with a one-hop double to the left-field fence, and scored to make it 4-0 on Owczarzcak's single to center.
"Paige has been outstanding the last three weeks or so," Blythewood coach Bucky Ware said. "She's a tough leadoff hitter to defend because she can hit the ball off the fence and has the speed to beat out a bunt for a hit."
However, Hartfield was caught stealing for the first time this season on an attempt in the fifth inning after easily legging out a bunt for a hit. She entered the game 29-for-29 in stolen bases.
"That made me mad," she said.
Owens pitched a four-hitter to improve to 16-3 and lower her ERA to 1.25. The crafty left-hander kept the Yellow Jackets off balance by changing speeds effectively and moving the ball all around in the zone.
"That's Kelly's game," Ware said. "She throws strikes and gets ground balls. Defense is the key for us in the playoffs because everybody we play now is good and can put the bat on the ball."
Stewart had a single in the fifth, swiped second base and scored the Bengals' final run on a squeeze bunt by freshman Bailey Newman.
Blythewood plays either Boiling Springs or Westside in the second round.