Central-Phenix City catcher Brittany Russ capped an eight-run second inning with a grand slam home run as the Lady Red Devils defeated Smiths Station, 13-3, in five innings Thursday afternoon in the first round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A Area 7 softball tournament.
In the nightcap, Lady Red Devils' starting pitcher Kristine Brown vaulted Central to the championship game this afternoon when she singled in teammate K.K. Scott in the seventh to defeat Opelika, 4-3.
Opelika won the chance to play in the winner's bracket as they scored four runs in the third and surprised Auburn, 5-3 in a game delayed by rain.
The second game saw a wet field and a light rain through the first three innings and Opelika struck first with two runs in the third. Led by Brown in the fourth by getting in a rundown, allowed Central to score two runs and tie the game at 2-2.
Sierra Keeling put the Lady Bulldogs up 3-2 with an infield hit RBI in the bottom of the fourth and Leah Lancaster tied it for Central in the fifth with an infield RBI to make it 3-3 and set the stage for Brown's wining hit.
In the first game of the day, the Panthers Caitlin Chapman staked Smiths to a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Central sent 12 batters to the plate in the second and rushed to an 8-1 lead. The big blow was Russ' homer and Kristen Studds added a two-run single as well.
Of the eight runs in the inning, only three of them were earned as the Panthers mishandled a squeeze bunt by Lauren Hughes that kept the inning alive.
"Our offense was outstanding this afternoon," said softball coach Bobby Cook after the contest. "Our defense was a little sloppy at first but we got back into it later in the game."
"I cannot tell you how much it means to see this team come together. Since last year when we were 7-14, we have worked and continued to get better and better. Last year we came up through the losers' bracket and this year, we have made it to the region tournament, win or lose Friday," Cook added.
Russ' home run chased starter Candace Hughes and Macey Barney took over and finished the game. Ross got her fifth RBI of the game off Barney with two out in the fifth for the 13th run and ended the contest at that moment.
Russ was three for four in the contest and got plenty of help as the Lady Red Devils pounded out 11 hits in the game.
Studds added two more runs batted in and was two for two with a walk and a sacrifice in the game. Coming back from a serious shoulder injury, Leah Lancaster was three for three with a double.
Meanwhile, lefthander Kristine Brown, after giving up the first-inning run, kept the Panthers off the scoreboard until the fifth and got her 26th win of the year.
The top hitter for the Panthers was Chapman as she was two for three with an RBI. No other Smiths Station player had more than one hit in the game.
The Panthers will continue play in the double elimination contest today at1 p.m. and will meet Auburn. At 3 p.m., Opelika will face the winner of the 1 p.m. contest at 3 p.m. and the loser's bracket winner will face Central for the area championship at 5 p.m.
Thursday at Central
Central 13, Smiths Station 3
Smiths Sta. 100 02 - 3 6 2
Central 082 21 - 13 11 1
WP-Kristine Brown (26-6). LP- Candice Hughes. LH- Central-Brittany Russ, 3-4, HR, 5RBI, Kristin Studds 2-2 4RBI; Smiths-Caitlin Chapman 2-3, RBI. Records-Central (35-12), Smiths Station (16-20).
Central 4, Opellika 3
Central 000 210 1 - 4 8 5
Opelika 002 100 0 - 3 5 5
WP- Brown (27-6). LP-Pelham (19-8). LH-Central 1x3, 2RBI; Opelika-Maria Mitchell 2x4, RBI. Records-Central (36-12), Opelika (26-16).
AHSAA Class 6A Area 7
Game 1: Central 13, Smiths Station 3
Game 2: Opelika 5, Auburn 3
Game 3: Central 4, Opelika 3
Game 4: Smiths Station vs. Auburn, 1 p.m.
Game 5: Game 4 winner vs. Opelika, 3 p.m.
Game 6: Central vs. Game 5 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 7: if game, 7 p.m.