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HILLSVILLE –– Scoring opportunities like the one Tazewell wasted in the first inning against Carroll County have been few and far between in games between the two this year.
The Bulldogs didn’t blow their second chance.
Having come up empty despite three first-inning singles, Tazewell pushed four runs across in a decisive third-inning rally and went on to shut out the Cavaliers 5-0 in the Southwest District softball semifinals Tuesday at CCHS.
Tazewell advanced to last night’s tournament title game against season champ Abingdon. Carroll County had to beat Richlands, a 10-0 semifinal loser to Abingdon, in the consolation game to advance to the Region IV tournament.
The Cavaliers (14-6) had taken two tightly-contested regular season meetings from the Bulldogs, a 4-2 win in Tazewell and a 6-0 decision two weeks ago that was scoreless until Bulldog starting pitcher Bre Sparks left the game after being hit by a line drive. So getting out of the first inning unscathed despite seeing the Bulldogs load the bases with one out was a big boost. Carroll just couldn’t carry the momentum into the dugout.
Sparks held the Cavaliers hitless through four innings and allowed just three hits on the day, striking out nine and walking four. Sparks did issue a pair of one-out walks in the bottom of the first but wriggled off the hook with back-to-back strikeouts. A shoestring catch by centerfielder Savanna Miller saved a run in the bottom of the second, and Sparks flagged down a sharp one-hopper with a Cavalier on third base in the bottom of the second.
Carroll finally got to Sparks in the fifth but came up empty after singles by Eden Durnil and Ragan Halsey. Durnil launched a drive to the left-centerfield gap with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. The ball fell to the ground as Miller and leftfielder Laura Kincer collided violently with one another at the fence, but Miller scrambled to her feet and pegged Durnil at third for the final out. Kincer lay motionless for about 10 minutes while being tended to by staff from both schools before getting to her feet.
Tazewell did most of its damage in the top of the fourth with a four-run rally that started with a misplayed blooper and a walk. Whitney Saunders bunted the two runners into scoring position and both scored on Sparks’ single up the middle. Julianne Hart added a two-out, two-run double for a 4-0 cushion. A throwing error produced Tazewell’s fifth run, in the top of the fifth.
Tazewell managed eight hits off Cavalier starter Gracie Davidson, who allowed just one earned run in six innings. Saunders and Sparks had three hits each for the Bulldogs.