Mildred — With air horns, cow bells and cheers from fans, Lady Gladiator Megan Richards started off game 1 of the Area Championship between Italy and the Mildred Lady Eagles with a high fly ball that was caught near the right field fence. However, Mildred struck first by taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third-inning.
In the top of the fourth, seniors Alma Suaste and Bailey Bumpus both get on base with a walk and a hit but Mildred’s defense continues to be stingy and the game remains 1-0. With Italy taking the field in the bottom half of the inning with a runner on, Megan Richards remains on the mound and strikes out Mildred’s next batter. The Lady Eagles try a bunt but Italy’s first baseman rushes in to collect the trickling effort and throws it back to second baseman, Bailey Eubank, who covered first base. Eubank makes the tag for the second out.
Mildred’s next batter bounces one back to the mound where Megan Richards makes the grab and throws to a reliable Lewis on first base for the third out. With the game growing in intensity, Italy’s large horde of fans upped their noise level keeping the Lady Gladiator motors fueled with town spirit.
Italy kept jabbing away but Eubank’s slap attempt to third resulted in the first out of the top of the fifth-inning. Tara Wallis was unable to reach first followed by Megan Richards who grounded out to shortstop for the third out. Despite Mildred’s 1 run lead, so prominent on the left field scoreboard and continuing to glow in the faces of Italy’s fans and Megan Richards each time she turned her back on home plate to setup for the next pitch, the senior kept firing away to her catcher and sister, Alyssa Richards.
Mildred grounded one to Eubank playing second who calmly delivered the ball to Lewis for the first out in the bottom of the fifth. Mildred’s next batter singles to centerfield where Italy’s Madison Washington fields it to hold the runner at first base. Mildred bunts to advance the runner and Eubank covers first for out number two. Mildred hits to senior shortstop Bailey Bumpus who scoops the grounder and throws to Lewis at first for the third out.
Still battling in the top of the sixth, Lewis pops one over the mound but Mildred’s pitcher makes an over-the-shoulder catch for the first out. With two outs, Washington walks to first to get a runner on base for Italy. Bumpus airs a shot that curves down to Mildred’s second baseman who makes the knee high catch for the third out. Italy is able to connect on pitches but the ball just refuses to cooperate by landing where a Mildred defender is not.
The Lady Gladiators get geared up and retake the field in the bottom of the sixth-inning. Alyssa Richards, buckles her shin guards and pulls down her catcher’s mask. Megan Richards slams the ball into her mitt a few times between warmup pitches and Lewis rolls mock grounders to Eubank, Bumpus and Katie Byers at third. Bailey DeBorde and Kelsey Nelson help outfielders Suaste, Washington and Wallis get loose as the games defining moments begin to play out with the fan noise even louder than previous innings.
Mildred bloops a single into the right field gap where Madison Washington covers it and throws it into Bumpus to hold the runner. With Mildred executing a bunt, Eubank covers first to get the first out while the Lady Eagle runner advances to second base. Never wavering, Megan Richards stays in control and strikes out the next batter for the second out. Mildred hits a grounder down the first base line where Lewis scoops it and, with a bit of a swagger, steps on the bag for the third out (Defining moment).
As the Lady Gladiators congregate at the dugout to meet with head coach, Jennifer Reeves, an enthusiastic Alyssa Richards shouts words of encouragement to her teammates as the game enters the final inning (Defining moment).
With the game on the line, Suaste is up first for Italy and extends the battle with foul balls and even takes a deflected pitch into her ankle that temporarily halts the action. Suaste hangs tough and earns a walk against Mildred’s frustrated pitcher (Defining moment). Katie Byers mimics the effort by Suaste and fouls off a couple to stay alive before being walked. Two runners on for Italy with the tying run at second, the winning run on first and no outs.
Wallis manages to earn a walk, as well, and the Lady Gladiators quickly load the bases as Italy’s fans help build the excitement. Feeling desperate, Mildred’s head coach, Billy Dan Chambliess, decides to make a pitching change (Defining moment). Unfortunately, for the Lady Eagles, Megan Richards, is up next for Italy and quickly takes advantage of Mildred’ strategic move. Megan Richards sends a pitch soaring into right field that clears the reaching glove of Mildred’s defender and drops in the grass for a double (Defining moment).
The staggering blast scores Suaste and Byers and advances Wallis to third base. Italy takes a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh. A volcano of spirit erupts as air horns blow, cowbells clang, signs are raised and high fives are shared in the bleachers with Italy rallying to steal all the game’s momentum.
With Wallis still on third and Megan Richards now on second base, Lewis hits to third but is unable to get Wallis home and is thrown out at first for the first out. Alyssa Richards shows bunt and helps an illegal pitch call to be charged to Mildred. The mistake advances the runners and scores Wallis from third (Defining moment). Mildred was plagued with illegal pitch calls in the game and this one gives Italy a 3-1 lead.
Alyssa Richards lines one to short but is thrown out at first for the second out. Mildred secures the third out before anymore damage is done and the game heads into the bottom of the seventh-inning with the Lady Eagles needing a minimum of two runs for the contest to continue.
Mildred’s hits a grounder to Bumpus at shortstop who fires to Lewis for the out at first. Eubank gets under a popup to second for the second out. Lewis charges forward to catch another popup inside the first base line to end the exciting matchup. Italy’s fans cheer the defensive stand and greet the players as the exit the field afterwards. An especially loud cheer was given for Megan Richards who pitched all seven innings. Italy took their game 1 win back home for a double-header on Saturday needing to win just one more game to claim the Area Championship.