Riverside's Cinderella run in the post season finally came to an end, one game short of a state tournament berth when old nemesis Cross County rallied from an early 2-1 deficit to claim a 5-3 come from behind victory Tuesday afternoon in the semi-finals of the Class AA Region 4 Tournament at Rector.
The Lady Rebels, who surprised everyone by finishing third in the 3AA South District Tournament a week earlier, knocked off host and pre-tourney favorite Rector 6-4 in the first round on Monday. Riverside seemed primed to pull off another upset when they took a 2-1 lead in the third inning against Cross County, thanks to senior Sam Dunigan's RBI double.
The Lady Thunderbirds came right back with a run of their own to tie the score 2-2 when Cross County catcher Sara Lopez ripped an RBI single to left field, scoring Robbie Guzman, who had singled to lead off the inning.
The T-Birds took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning as Guzman got things going again with her second single of the game. Tabitha Morelock followed Guzman with another single into right field, putting two runners on with none out. Dunigan, who went all the way on the mound for Riverside to take the loss, got the next two batters on pop-ups in the infield and appeared to have worked herself out of trouble.
With runners at first and second, Cross County sent power hitting Octavia Robinson to the plate, looking to take the lead. Lady Thunderbird Coach Steve Williams signaled for the double steal and when Riverside catcher Kassie Douglas threw to third in an attempt to nail the lead runner, the throw sailed high over the third baseman's head into left field, allowing Guzman to score from third, giving Cross County a 3-2 lead. Robinson grounded out to end the inning, as Dunigan avoided any further damage.
Riverside freshman Katey Campbell got the Rebels rolling in the top of the sixth when she blistered a double to left field. Campbell came around to score when Cross County shortstop Tabitha Morelock uncorked a wild throw to first on a grounder off the bat of senior Magan Adams, tying the score at 3-3.
The Lady Thunderbirds started their winning rally in the bottom of the sixth when second baseman Brooke Redman led off the inning with a clean single to left field. Kari Beth Davis reached on an error, putting runners at second and third with no outs. Designated hitter Chelsea Moore delivered an RBI single to left, putting the Lady T-Birds up for good, 4-3. Davis scampered to third on the play while Moore went to second on the throw to the plate. Samantha Ashcraft lofted a sacrifice fly, scoring Davis from third to cap off the inning, giving Cross County a 5-3 lead.
Kelsey Turner drew a two out walk in the Riverside seventh, but winning pitcher Robbie Guzman enticed Campbell to pop out to second to end the game, along with the Lady Rebel's season.
"I am very pleased with the girls," said Riverside Softball Coach T.J. Eakins. "We were a couple of breaks away from being in the championship game and going to the state tournament. I am very proud of my team. They played their hearts out. Every time we fell behind we came back. It was just this last time we couldn(t get over the hump. We made a couple of errors which gave Cross County the momentum, and that was the difference."
The Lady Rebels were led at the plate by Campbell, who had a pair of hits, including a double, and two runs scored. Dunigan had a double and an RBI while Emilee Hook also had a single and an RBI. Turner had a single and a run scored while Holly Dudley also singled. Kailey Holt had a stolen base.
Riverside advanced to the semi-finals by knocking off Rector 6-4 on Monday afternoon. Winning pitcher Sam Dunigan threw a complete game, scattering four hits while giving up four runs. Riverside was led at the plate by Kailey Holt and Katey Campbell. Holt and Campbell each had a single, an RBI, a run scored and a stolen base. Morgan Emery had an RBI single and scored a run while Magan Adams delivered a single. Holly Dudley had an RBI and a run scored while Kelsey Turner scored a run.
Riverside took a 1-0 lead in the first inning but watched Rector score three times in the second en route to building a 4-1 lead. The Lady Rebels took control of the game by scoring five times in the sixth inning to pull out the victory.
"We played well against Rector and battled. We beat a very good team, probably the most talented team in the tournament. Everyone played well. Our defense was great. We were as good a defensive softball team by the end of the season as I have ever coached," said Eakins, whose team finished with an 8-10 record.