Times Sports Editor
CLAY CITY -- When the Eels and Thunderbirds meet in postseason softball, it's almost guaranteed to be a classic contest.
One year ago in the Clay City Sectional, the Eels scratched out a 3-2 victory to advance in sectional play. This time around, North Central returned the favor, scratching out a run in the top of the 10th inning to claim a 3-2 win and the sectional championship.
The Eels got on the board first with a single run in the third inning as Shaya Stevenson walked and then stole second with two outs. Shelby Targett then drove her home with an RBI single for a 1-0 Eels lead.
Hits were at a premium on both sides in this game as both squads featured talented pitchers in the circle.
Targett gave up a rocket of a two-base hit to Megan Stone in the first inning, but struckout five over the first three innings of work. Her counterpart, Ashli Scott, despite allowing the early run, was matching Targett.
The North Central pitcher had a few control problems, walking three over the first three innings, but countered that by striking out the side in the first two innings and 12 over the first five frames.
Targett appeared to be cruising into the fifth inning and despite allowing a base hit to Ariel Jacobs, seemed fine as the senior struck out the next two batters. However, one mistake can turn the tide of a softball game and that's exactly what happened as Maria Drake popped a short fly towards shortstop. However, two Eels converged and neither was able to haul it in as an error moved the runners to second and third base. Targett got two strikes on Scott before she smacked an RBI single to tie the game. Clay City would intentionally walk Stone to load the bases, but a dribbled grounder by Alainey Thompson scored Drake as Scott was thrown out at home.
The Eels didn't stay down long as they countered in the sixth inning as Madison Booe walked and Targett singled up the middle. Karen Treadway came up and laid down a perfect bunt that scooted past a fielder and the bases were loaded with no outs. Michaela Riggs brought the tying run home with a sacrifice fly to leftfield, but Scott got out of the inning by forcing a groundout from Abby Reed and striking out Sloan Miller.
Clay City had a number of opportunities to grab a lead, but couldn't quite get the key hit. The Eels had baserunners in seven of the game's 10 innings, but Scott struck out 20 Clay City batters in the game to help her erase six walks.
"We had the runners where we needed them, but we just couldn't get it done," Rhodes said. "It's a hard way to go, especially for the seniors. Shelby (Targett) pitched a heck of a ball game. (North Central) didn't have too many hits tonight."
Targett allowed just seven hits and the only two walks she gave up were intentional free passes as she struck out 10 North Central batters.
The game remained tied despite a couple of excellent chances for the Eels whose best chance came in the eighth inning.
With one out, Targett was hit-by-pitch and Chloe Kittle came in as a courtesy runner. Karen Treadway laid down a perfect bunt for a single. Scott was able to get the second out on a strike out of Riggs, but Reed followed with an infield single to second base. Kittle had a thought about trying to score on the play, but stopped midway between third base and home plate and was thrown out diving back to third to end the threat.
"We had them on the ropes a couple of times, we had our 3-4-5 hitters up there, but couldn't do it," Rhodes said.
In the ninth inning, Sloan Miller reached on a walk and Stevenson singled off Scott's mitt with one out. Scott buckled down and struck out Allie Miller and got Booe to flyout.
The tenth inning saw Scott lead off with a single before Targett struck Stone out swinging. Thompson then laid down a bunt that looked like an out, but Targett's rushed throw sailed high and the runners moved into scoring position. Crooks then hit an RBI sacrifice fly to give North Central a 3-2 lead.
In the Eels half of the 10th, Targett lead off with a walk, but Scott struck out Treadway and Riggs before getting Reed to flyout to end the game.
"It was two good teams battling it out, they both played exceptionally hard," commented Rhodes. "Neither one gave up, we got ahead, (North Central) came back, they got ahead, we came back and they got ahead and it came down to the last out."
Clay City's season concludes at 18-12 overall while North Central will host the winner of the North Daviess Sectional on Tuesday, June 1.
Class A Clay City Sectional
2B -- NC (Stone). SB -- NC (Stone 2), CC (Stevenson).