Tori Stafford has already twice this season found herself at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, two outs, her Van Buren softball team trailing by one and the tying run standing at third base.
One previously didn’t work for her. One did.
Make that 2-for-3 after Monday.
Van Buren tied the game on a wild pitch with Stafford at the plate two pitches before she sent a flared single over first base to knock in the winning run and beat Northside, 5-4.
Those sorts of finishes are becoming too habitual, Van Buren coach Andy Williams said.
“We’ve been in that spot three or four times this year. With her and a chance to win it. She came through tonight,” Williams said.
Northside (4-8) took a one-run lead into the final inning and was two outs from getting the victory. But back-to-back singles by Hannah Patterson and Ashton Sangster gave the Lady Pointers (5-12) a chance. Both moved up a base after a Kinsey Williams groundout and Stafford approached in her customary setting.
A wild pitch from Northside’s Kira Shephard was her only mistake of the game. It came at the absolute worst time for the Lady Bears, as Nicole Lewelling, who was running for Patterson, scurried home when the ball went to the backstop.
Stafford ended it three pitches later.
“I told Kira, ‘don’t hang your head. You pitched a great game,’” Northside coach Brad Johnson said. “It was one pitch. We had about 12 runners left on base. When you have runners left on base, you need your key hitters to come through with a base hit and we didn’t come through tonight.”
Northside scored two runs in the first inning with one hit, two walks and two wild pitches. The Lady Bears also had a runner doubled off of first base on a fly ball. It was an odd half-inning that was a prelude of the rest of the game.
Both teams had three errors apiece, a total of four wild pitches, two runners doubled off on fly balls, two base-running rundowns and three runners forced out on base hits to the outfield.
“We got lucky on some stuff. Weird game,” Williams said. “We didn’t play our best game, but we didn’t play horribly. We got lucky.”
Stafford also picked up the victory on the mound. She entered after Nicole Jeffries gave up three straight Northside singles to start the sixth. Stafford retired three of the next four batters to limit the damage.
It wasn’t the only chance Northside had to put away Van Buren, either. The Lady Bears loaded the bases in the third with one out, but had a runner forced out after a single and a strikeout to end the inning without scoring a run.
“I think after the inning we left the bases loaded – their pitcher came through and held us – I think we kind of lost a little wind in our sails,” Johnson said. “I think it would have been a different outcome if we get two runs that inning and make it 4-0, instead of 2-0.”
Van Buren took a short-lived lead in the fifth on a Sangster RBI double and a Williams RBI groundout. Northside went back on top in the sixth after Stafford entered.