Cleveland’s softball team had a Senior Night to remember.
The Rams rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday night to defeat South Johnston 7-6, Cleveland’s seventh straight victory.
“I believe it takes a lot of maturity (to come back in that kind of situation),” said Cleveland senior shortstop and captain Alliyah Sands. “I think that is what our team has gained over the the season. ... Lately we have done a great job of not getting down and not staying down and picking each other up.
“It feels great (to win seven straight). It feels even better winning our Senior Night. If this is the last game we play at home, I’m glad it was this one.”
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Sands played a big role in the victory, going 3-for-4 with a homer, double, two RBI and two runs scored. But she flied out to start the bottom of the ninth and had to watch and offer vocal encouragement as her teammates put together the winning rally.
Fellow senior Skyler Allen started the comeback from a 6-4 deficit with an infield single and Becca Straka followed with a single to left field. After a walk loaded the bases, senior Jodi Morgan lined a two-run double to the wall in left-center to tie the score at 6-6.
After another walk, junior pitcher Taylor Drayton (4-for-5 at the plate) stepped into the batter’s box for the Rams with a runner on third and one out. She lifted a sacrifice fly ball to left field that was deep enough for Ali Papworth to tag up from third base and slide home with the winning run.
“I had confidence,” Drayton said. “I just wanted to do anything I could to get the run in. It scared me a little bit, but I knew when she caught it that we could still tag up and get the run in. This game shows our heart and how much we wanted it.”
The win left Cleveland (11-4, 7-2 Two Rivers 3A Conference) in second place in the league behind Erwin Triton with the final game of the regular season for both teams being played late last week.
South Johnston (7-8, 3-5) lost in extra innings for the second straight game. On Monday night, the Trojans had the lead in the eighth inning at Triton only to lose in another 7-6 final.
“Cleveland is a very good offensive team,” said South Johnston coach Amanda Smith. “Scoring two runs in the top of the ninth, I felt good but I also knew that we had to slam the door.
“We’re not laying back necessarily, but when you are playing a team that is competitive and has a lot of fight, things like that happen. I’ve told them it’s going to pay off in the end, these battles, these fights, it’s going to come out in our favor. It’s just a matter of time.”
South Johnston rallied from a 3-0 deficit, scoring a pair of runs in the fifth to cut the margin to 3-2. When Cleveland scored a run in the bottom of the fifth to go back up 4-2, the Trojans came back again.
South Johnston mounted a seventh-inning rally, taking advantage of two walks and an error to tie the score on a two-out, two-run single by Alex Woodall.
Then, in the seventh, the Trojans came up with two more runs – getting consecutive singles from Caroline Dorman, Madison Byrd and Lily Allen to start the inning. Allen’s hit to right field drove in one run and another run came home on a throwing error in the outfield.
Most nights, it would have been enough for a victory. But not on Senior Night at Cleveland.
“They never gave up,” said Rams coach Samantha Coats. “I’m proud of them. It’s real easy to give up at that point (when the other team goes ahead in the ninth). They just never gave up.”