OVERLAND PARK, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College softball team went toe-to-toe with the top team inside the Region VI on Saturday, but unfortunately came out on the short-end of a pair of pitcher's duels as the T-Birds fell by the final scores of 3-1 and 2-1, respectively.
While the T-Birds (6-18 overall, 0-8 Region VI) were disappointed to be leaving Overland Park without a win, they did finish their eight-game road trip with a 5-3 record and showed with Saturday's performance against Johnson County (14-7 overall, 11-1 Region VI) showed they are a different team since the calendar flipped to April.
"You could tell there was a team out there that really wanted it badly. And I told them, at the end of the day that their effort was outstanding," said Cloud County head coach, Aaron Acree. "We executed, defensively, all day long. We received two very good pitching performances. We just didn't hit the ball like we should have. There were great things to see and those were two well-played ballgames by both teams all the way around."
Cloud County pushed the Cavaliers, who received votes on the latest NJCAA national poll, to extra innings in Game Two.
With two gone in the bottom of the eighth, Johnson County's Alli Heiman lined a two-out RBI double down the left-field line that scored Kerry Murphy on a controversial call at home plate.
Murphy and Cloud County freshman catcher Emily Wells collided a few feet in front of home plate and Wells was ruled for catcher's interference as she tried to position herself for the relay throw home. The call was discussed, but ultimately upheld by the field umpires to give the Cavaliers a 2-1, walk-off victory.
"We had perfect relay throws from (left fielder) Kara Chisolm and Kennedy Doherty (shortstop) to Emily, who tagged (Murphy), but had the ball come out at the same time as the collision," Acree explained. "We thought she tackled Emily, then stayed on top of her and wouldn't get off her. But the umpires ruled it was obstruction and that it was Emily who wouldn't get off the runner."
It was an anti-climatic end to an otherwise brilliant day in the pitching circle for freshman Mattison Hogrefe, who threw a career-high 7.2 innings, limiting a powerful Johnson County lineup to two runs, one earned, on eight hits while striking out two.
"They (Cavaliers) are so tough and Mattison did a great job of throwing first-pitch strikes and Emily called a great game behind the plate, moving the ball in and up, down and outside while changing speeds," Acree said. "No one ever really squared her up all game long."
Cloud County took its first lead off the day in the top of the sixth when Wells led off the inning with a double, then came around to score on a two-out single by freshman Jacie Marcotte.
"Jacie won a great battle there. Full count and she was able to get her hands through and hit a nice line drive over the shortstop's head," Acree said. "It was a huge at-bat in the game."
Johnson County loaded the bases the next half-inning on three straight bunt attempts, but Hogrefe was able to induced a 3-5 double-play on a pop-up and escape the jam with just one run allowed, setting up the exciting finish in extra-innings.
Marcotte, who finished 1-for-3 with the RBI in Game One, also impressed Saturday in the pitching circle as she got saddled with the tough-luck loss in Game One after throwing six innings after limiting Johnson County to three runs on eight hits.
Jacie pitched a heck of a game, as well," Acree said. "She worked ahead in the count, consistently, like Mattison did and I'm extremely proud of both of those girls. They did an outstanding job (Saturday) and they are starting to understand their jobs."
Cloud County scored its lone run of Game One to tie the game back in the fourth inning when Hogrefe scampered home from third base on a strike three wild pitch that kicked away from the Johnson County catcher.
The T-Birds finished with six hits in Game One, and nine total hits on the day, as the Cavaliers pitching duo of Kerrigan Dixon and Hallie Henderson were able to match the outings turned in by Hogrefe and Marcotte.
"Johnson County's pitchers keep hammering that low and outside part of the strike zone and we kept popping the ball up off the end of the bat or watching it go by for strike three," Acree said. "We faced two darn good pitchers from Johnson County. Both teams were hitting locations and making big pitches when they needed to."
Cloud County will take the rest of the weekend off and turn its attention toward its Tuesday's doubleheader against Coffeyville Community College.
Tuesday's doubleheader, set for 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Concordia, marks the long-awaited home opener for the T-Birds after an unusually snowy spring forced the team to play their first 24 games out on the road.
"I know the girls are looking forward to playing at home," Acree said. "And if we can play like we did (Saturday) and this past week, I think we can take care of business at home and get back into the picture of things (in the Region VI standings). We have to take care of things one game at a time. But after playing as well as we did today against a great team like Johnson County, we know it's in us."