There was a furious rally through the loser’s bracket at the ASA Class A 18-under national championship on Saturday at Winged Deer Park.
Kentucky signee Katie Henderson and the Chattanooga-based Tennessee Fury bounced back from a 10 a.m. loss with three straight victories to advance to today’s loser’s bracket semifinal.
The Fury beat Riptide (Newport Beach, Calif.) 4-2 at noon, defeated Sports Connection (Fairless Hills, Pa.) 5-2 at 4 p.m., and eliminated the Mobile (Ala.) Thrillers in a night a game with a 5-1 victory.
The Fury plays today at 9 a.m. against the Indiana Shockwaves (Indianapolis). The Shockwaves defeated the Miami Lady Hurricanes, 6-5, in their final game Saturday night.
The Shockwaves-Fury winner will play the Carolina Cardinals (King, N.C.) in the loser’s bracket final at 11 a.m.
The Cardinals suffered a 4-3 loss in eight innings to the Central Florida Sting (Orlando) in the winner’s bracket final late Saturday night. Stetson signee Morgan Hatch hit a two-out, two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth for Central Florida.
The Fury’s Henderson pitched 17 innings Saturday. In the last leg of the marathon, she allowed two hits in four shutout innings against the Thrillers, who trailed 2-0 with the tying runners in scoring position with two outs in the fourth.
But Katie Worley lined out to center fielder Bethany Cowart, an East Tennessee State signee, to end the threat, and an exhausted Henderson gave way to reliever Erica Tuck. She allowed one run on four hits while walking none for the three-inning save.
“I think that is the most (innings) I’ve pitched in one day before,” Henderson said. “It (fatigue) started setting in in the fourth. My ball started coming up, and that’s when it starts getting hittable and I was done for the day.”
Fury coach Tony Boyd commended the gutsy punctuation of Henderson’s performances.
“Katie – I mean, she was toast,” Boyd said. “I told her (before the game), ‘Just give me what you got and tell me when you can’t go no more.’ … She was great.”
Henderson got some wind in her sails when Laura Dukes followed Gabby Perez’s one-out single with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first.
“That home run was awesome,” Henderson said. “It gave me some adrenaline, for sure.”
Dukes finished 2-for-3, including an opposite-field line drive single when the Thrillers appeared to be pitching around her with two outs and none on in the third.
Boyd said Dukes, a rising sophomore at Middle Tennessee State, has been hitting for a high average all summer.
“Laura has been clutch all year,” Boyd said. “Our weeks end on Sunday night, and usually my adrenaline’s still going and I’ll get the scorebook out and do batting averages. And week in, week out, she’s hitting in the four, five and six-hundreds.
“I can’t say enough about her. She’s so mature as a player. It’s been so good for the younger players to be around her.”
Perez, the shortstop, was 2-for-3 with two runs, a stolen base and an RBI. She followed leadoff batter Lexie Dean’s RBI double with an RBI single during the Fury’s three-run fifth.
The Thrillers scored in the sixth when Ashley Peters’ two-out RBI single through the middle plated Megan Dowdy, who had reached on a one-out double. Amy Dennis was 2-for-3 with two doubles for the Thrillers. Dowdy also had two hits.
Boyd remembered many of the Thrillers, the nucleus of which competed against many of his players as far back as a 10-under tournament.
“They’re always very athletic and a tough ball team,” Boyd said. “I told the girls that. I said, ‘Don’t expect anything to be given to you.’”
Today’s championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Central Florida got there on Hatch’s third home run of the day. It came with the tying run at third base.
“I was thinking that I just needed to make contact,” Hatch said. “She was throwing a little bit of a rise-ball, and it might’ve been a rise. … I knew it (was gone). I’d hit two like that today. Sometimes you just know when it’s gone.”
Carolina had tied the score on Taylor Wike’s two-out two-run double in the sixth. The Cardinals went ahead 3-2 in the top of the eighth when Courtney Carroll tagged and scored on Aquilla Mateen’s fly-out to left field.