CROWLEY — Benton’s Ashley Hunter gave up a leadoff triple to Crowley’s Breanna Larry in the first inning Saturday.
That would be Crowley’s only baserunner. The Tigers used a four-run sixth inning to open up the lead, and Hunter went the distance, striking out 11 in Benton’s 6-1 Class 4A opening-round softball playoff win.
“I just had to blow (the triple) off,” Hunter said. “They hit one off me, and I just come back at them. The intensity of my team helps me build my confidence. I know they’re there, and they have my back. It makes me want to get out there and do well.”
Benton coach Michelle Owens said Hunter has been “hit or miss” this season, but recently the sophomore pitcher has been stellar.
“The last few weeks, she has been buckling down and working hard,” Owens said. “She has been really perfecting her pitches. She was awesome in the circle. She had control the whole game, and her defense came out and played well behind her.”
Crowley coach Joshua Schrader said playing in a game where the opposing pitcher is so dominant really doesn’t give much room for mistakes.
“(Hunter) hit her spots and didn’t miss much,” Schrader said. “She didn’t allow us to string together any hits. We just tell the girls to put the bat on the ball and get it in play, but she was spotting her pitches really well and didn’t leave us much to hit. She was dominant, and we were swinging and missing at a lot.”
Crowley pitcher Nella LaGrange pitched well for the majority of the game. But the four-run sixth, capped by Hallie Saintignan’s three-run double, was too much to overcome.
“Nella pitched well,” Schrader said. “She had a tough inning where she wasn’t hitting her spots, and they took advantage of some good pitches to hit. She’s a freshman, and she’s going to keep us in most games. We just have to hit the ball.”
Schrader said he didn’t think the Ladies were as prepared at the plate as they have been. Still, he said the season was a success and he realizes the future looks bright for Crowley softball.
“Benton is a very god team and their pitcher threw very well today,” Schrader said. “It was a good season. We won a lot of games and had some success, but we have to get back to work. The mentality of when you’re 14 or 15 to when you’re 17 and 18 is a big difference. We just need to grow in our maturity level, and hopefully it transfers onto the softball field.”
For Benton and Hunter, she said the win is a big step in what she hopes will be a long run in the postseason.
“This win hypes us up,” Hunter said. “We are ready to go on to the second round and keep this thing going.”