CAROLINA FOREST Bluffton rallied twice, first to force a second game, then to win 10-6 over Carolina Forest on Wednesday in a winner-take-all matchup to earn a place in the Class AAAA Lower State tournament.
The Panthers led 3-0 and 6-3 in the second game, but the Bobcats rallied both times, including a four-run burst in the fifth inning to seal to win.
With the game knotted at 6, the Bobcats’ Lily Outen led off with a single, then scored on a Jordyn Parker single, and McKyla Houghlan drove a three-run homer over the centerfield fence to put the Panthers away for good.
“It’s disappointing. That’s really the only word,” Panthers coach Meagan Johnson said.
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The Panthers (24-4), the defending Lower State champs, had already beaten the Bobcats and North Augusta in the double-elimination District VI tournament and needed just one win to advance again.
Carolina Forest pitcher Emily Merriam reached on an error to open the top of the second inning and pinch-runner Leah Belac scored on a swinging bunt from Cheyenne McKenna, Emily Best’s RBI single scored Natalie Hardwick and McKenna scored on Angelina Santoro’s RBI double to give the Panthers a 3-0 edge in the top of the second.
Bluffton came right back, however, with three runs in the bottom half of the inning, keyed by a two-run single by Morgonne Parker.
Carolina Forest added another run in the third when Kyleigha McKenna hit a one-out single, took second and third on an error in center field and scored on an error by Bobcats’ catcher Whitney Morrell, and stretched the led to 6-3 in the fourth when Best and Sara Sweatt led off with back-to-back singles, then scored on singles from Monica Mullis and McKenna.
Bluffton’s Kim Kirby hit a two-RBI single in the bottom of the inning and scored on a single from Morrell as the Bobcats tied the game at 6.
Carolina Forest led early in the first game, going up 1-0 when Sara Sweatt, a 2012 All-State selection, was walked by Bluffton pitcher Courtney Smith and scored on a Mullis single.
Bluffton answered in the third with a two-run single by Houghlan, to go up 2-1, then extended the lead to 4-1 in the fifth RBI singles from Houghlan and Kirby.
Carolina Forest appeared to have tied the game in the fifth. Sweatt’s sac hit scored Hardwick, and Santoro ripped the ball sharply down the leftfield line, which would have driven in the tying runs, but the home plate umpire ruled the ball foul.
“That’s the way the game goes,” Johnson said. “That’s why this is such a great game. It’s doesn’t always go your way, but you’ve still got to find a way to come back and to score. That’s just the way it goes.”