The Lady Raiders (1-1, 0-1 District 5-AAA) held a 2-1 lead until the seventh inning and needed only one more strike to cinch the win before the Bearettes (1-0, 1-0, 5-AAA) rallied to tie the game and pull out a 10-inning 5-4 victory over Cleveland.
McElhaney, who sat as a spectator outside the dugout, was finally able to relax after the Bearettes quelled a Lady Raiders rally in the bottom of the 10th to seal the opening season and district win.
“The girls fought back. From such a young group, that shows a lot of potential. The coaching staff didn’t give up on them, they stayed with them the whole time. I’m proud of the girls,” said McElhaney.
“We have some things to work on. We had the first-game jitters and it was Cleveland on top of that. But they did OK. We’ve got to make some improvements before we get to Walker Valley on Thursday.”
Cleveland coach Connie Stobert said the Lady Raiders stayed calm and fought to the finish, but just need to learn to grab victory when it is within reach.
“We’ve got to work on closing it out and executing,” she said. “We had the game won in the seventh inning — had we executed. We had several attempts, we just didn’t execute. That’s what is going to make the difference for us. It’s going to come down to getting the fundamentals right.”
The Lady Raiders, who defeated Red Bank Monday night, took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a Lauren Lee single and a Bradley error.
Cleveland held the lead until the top of the fourth when the Bearettes tied the game on two walks and a Kallie Hawkins RBI single.
The Lady Raiders grabbed the lead back in the bottom half of the inning. Ambra Belcher led off with a walk and later scored on a Gracyn Walkup single to center field.
The 2-1 lead stood until the top of the seventh.
Bradley Central’s Sydney Morgan trotted to first after being hit by a pitch and moved to second on a fielder’s choice. Emmaly Morgan did the job for the Bearettes with an RBI single to center, scoring Morgan and knotting the score at 2-2.
The Lady Raiders left the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, sending the game into extra innings.
With the tiebreaker rule in effect in the top of the 10th, the Bearettes got a bunt single from Grady Chanler and hits by Von Harrison and Hawkins to take a 5-2 lead.
But the Lady Raiders refused to go quietly.
Brittany Arnold made it a 5-3 game after scoring from second on a wild pitch and bad throw to third. Cleveland sophomore Teliyah Cobb made it a 5-4 game with a blast over the center-field fence with no outs.
From there, Bearettes reliever Abby Abernathy slammed the door on the Lady Raiders with a little defensive help to close out the win for Bradley.
“Our defense is pretty solid. We’ve got a lot stronger defense to back up our pitching. It has improved a lot. Haley (Hodgson) pitched a great game. She pitched a full seven innings Monday at Red Bank, then came back and pitched tonight,” Stobert said of her ace. “She’s been doing very well hitting her spots, and getting out of our big innings. If something big happens, she is right back in there focused and working on getting the next batter out.
McElhaney said she was able to observe a few things from her seat as an onlooker that need improvement, but added there is plenty to work with on the field and on the bench.
“You can’t give them more than three outs an inning. When you can get the easy out, you’ve got to make it. You can’t get lazy when there are base runners on. There at the end it wound up costing us a run. We’ve just got to be mentally in the game the whole time,” she said.
“We’ve got lots of potential to work with. And we’ve still got plenty sitting in the dugout that can come out at any time.”