CLAY CITY -- Pitching has been the story at the Class A Clay City Softball Sectional as both the host Eels and North Central each got dominating mound performances in their first round wins.
In Tuesday's semifinals, the T-Birds were heavily favored, coming in with a No. 5 ranking while the Eels finished below .500 for the year. But as they say, that's why they play the game.
Loni Rhodes pitched the Eels to a complete game, two-hit shutout as Clay City pulled a huge upset to advance to Thursday's championship game with a 3-0 victory over North Central.
"This is a big win," commented coach Staci Murphy. "Everyone really had their heads in the game, everything's coming together," said the first year head coach.
Rhodes was on top of her game from the beginning and would get some help from her defense in key spots during the latter stages of the game.
Through four innings, Rhodes allowed just one baserunner on a soft, looping single into short left field. The Eels would get all the runs they would need in the bottom of the third innings and Rhodes played a big role in the offensive side as well.
With one out, Cameron Gerber drilled a double to leftfield to get the inning started, but in an attempt to sacrifice Gerber to third, Chelsee Gerber popped up a bunt attempt for the second out. With the scoring opportunity in jeopardy, Kendra Roe drew a walk and Rhodes helped her cause by smacking a double to rightfield that brought home pinchrunner Kayla Withrow and Roe from first base. Leading 2-0, the Eels got another insurance run as catcher Angie Camp singled home Rhodes for a 3-0 advantage.
"I was just hoping for a base hit," commented Rhodes on her key plate appearance. "Cameron (Gerber) got us started and Angie (Camp) gave us a big third run."
Back on the mound, Rhodes got into a little bit of trouble in the fifth inning as Jacilyn McClain reached base on an infield grounder when the throw to first was in the dirt. Krista Himebrook then hit a soft shot back to Rhodes on the mound, but her throw to first was errant, putting runners on second and third with just one out.
"I was a little tense," admitted Murphy of the situation. "But I knew we could buckle down and get through it."
And that was just what Rhodes and the Eels did.
Rhodes coaxed a popup to rightfield from pinch-hitter Kara McClure for the second out. Clay City's rightfielder's throw back to the infield was high, going to the backstop and pinchrunner Keri Rodriguez looked to have scored from third, but was called out when the Eels checked third. Rodriguez hadn't tagged up at third on the play after the flyball out and Clay City emerged unscathed.
In the sixth inning, Ashleigh Rogers beat out an infield single with one out and Sierra Taft's solid grounder to third base got under Kristin Tyler's mitt to put runners on first and second. A passed ball then put the Eels in another second and third with one out predicament.
Once more however, the Eels' defense came through in the clutch.
Rhodes got a popup to short left from Annika Dawson and then Jacquelynne Porter sent a foul ball to the backstop that Camp made a sliding grab on to end the inning.
"I threw pretty well tonight," admitted Rhodes, "but for every pitcher there's a catcher and Angie (Camp) did a great job tonight. She really came through."
Rhodes would shut down the T-Birds the rest of the way and got a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh inning to seal the upset and propel the Eels to the title game on Thursday night at 7 p.m. versus the winner of the Shakamak/Union game.
Clay City Softball Sectional
2B -- CC (Rhodes, Ca.Gerber). SB -- CC (Camp).