The final scoreboard showed a 7-2 victory for the Benjamin Russell Wildcats softball team Wednesday afternoon, but they were in for a fight against Opelika until a sixth inning burst pushed the program to the win.
Five runs crossed the plate in the sixth inning for the Wildcats, sealing the home victory over the Bulldogs.
“It was a good win, it got a little intense and they kept their composure and I was proud for that,” BRHS coach Jessica Johnson said after the game. “We didn’t hit very well and we didn’t make adjustments but we were able to put some together. Leah (Leonard) of course, Chloe (Davis), Ryann (Ruffin) had a good hit at the beginning of the game and we ended up being able to put some things together that might not have been hits but we were still able to manufacture some runs so it was big.”
Mercer commit Taylor Harris was in the circle against Opelika as a two-game win streak for the Wildcats hung in the balance. The game started a bit rocky for the Wildcats defensively.
Early errors affected the team, allowing one runner on base and then a hit batter that put two runners in scoring position. Harris coaxed back-to-back ground outs to end the inning and keep the inning scoreless.
The bottom of the second could have been a chance for the Wildcats to get on the board as Harris doubled to right field, but a strikeout and a flyout effectively ended any chance for Benjamin Russell to get on the board.
Opelika scored the first run of the game in the second inning. Following a strikeout to start the inning, Opelika singled on a bunt and then moved the runner forward 45-feet on a passed ball. A walk issued to the batter put the second runner on base.
The first pitch to the fourth batter in the inning was wild and moved Opelika’s Leah Bales around to third. It was a fielder’s choice that netted no outs that broke the deadlock.
It was a new game from there. Harris struck out her next batter and then managed to pitch to contact and get out of the inning without more damage being done.
Benjamin Russell found a response for the run in the bottom of the second inning.
Ryann Ruffin singled to center to kick off the inning and Davis walked after Leonard flew out to first for the first out in the inning.
Ruffin tagged up on the second fly out of the inning from second to reach third, but the Wildcats were down to their final out of the second inning and in a 1-0 hole.
Zaria Robertson singled to third, activating Ruffin with nothing to lose and drove in the tying run for the Wildcats. Opelika committed a costly error, scoring Davis at the same time.
From there, it was just a pitchers’ duel. The game remained at 2-1 as each side went 1-2-3 three times.
The complexion changed in the top of the sixth inning. The danger was lurking and it came in the form of a hit batter. A sharp single to right with enough of a gap to roll endlessly led to the tying run.
The result of the score ignited Harris’ pitching once more with three straight strikeouts. A renewed game meant that the Wildcats would have a chance to walk off the game in the seventh inning but they didn’t wait that long.
It started with Emma Tapley singling to third and beating out the throw.
Two passed balls advanced courtesy runner Laine McWaters to third and Ruffin drove in the first run of the sixth inning on a bunt.
Leonard got around a 1-2 count pitch and sent it screaming over the left-field fence for a two-RBI home run.
“You knew it was gone once she hit it,” Johnson said. “Those are the best kind. The no-doubters. She struggled a bit today, she wasn’t feeling her best so it was good to see her come out and do that.”
BRHS was up 5-2 and far from done. Davis doubled to center, Tiffany Roberts singled to left to score the sixth run and Robertson traded a run for an out with a groundout to first for the Wildcats’ seventh run of the game.
“We talk a lot about making adjustments early but we can’t wait until the sixth or seventh inning to make those adjustments,” Johnson said. “It’s the kinda thing (we want), just a little bit sooner and that’s one of the things we’ll talk about.”
The 7-2 cushion gave Harris a new look in the circle as she struck out the first batter, and managed to get a groundout and fly out to end the game.
“We always have each other’s backs, so when Chloe got ran over at first and things started to get a little testy we didn’t let each other down,” Harris said. “That’s what I love about them. They knew what I needed and those five runs – I was able to go out there just like a new girl and go out there and do my thing. No stress. It just made it a lot easier.”
Harris threw a complete game, striking out nine batters. Leonard with a homerun 1-for-3 with 2RBIs, Robertson 1-for-3 with 2RBIs with Ruffin going 2-for-3 with an RBI.