Live Oak ready for district race _lowres

Advocate staff photos by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- Live Oak's Kelsey Miller hits the ball against Central in a District 4-5A game showdown March 17 at Live Oak Sports Park. Live Oak won 4-0.

WATSON — The winds were swirling and ominous clouds were lingered overhead by the fourth inning. Would it rain on Live Oak High’s softball parade?

Not a chance, especially with Savannah Hall and Ally Howard leading the way.

Howard hit a two-run homer and Hall threw a four-hitter with three strikeouts and no walks to lead Live Oak past Central 4-0 in a pivotal District 4-5A game played at the Live Oak Sports Ball Park on Thursday afternoon.

“We knew we had to keep the ball low and away from them or they were going to get a hold of it,” Hall said. “I worked it down and low, inside and outside, and then I’d work it up to try and get the third strike. I hit my spots.”

Hall’s modest strikeout total might turn off some softball purists. It was about location and guile as the senior hurler induced a series of groundouts and fly balls. Even when the wind was blowing out, Central failed to drive the ball deep.

Howard provided the game’s biggest hit — her first home run of the season. She launched an inside curveball over the center field fence, turning a slim 1-0 edge into a comfortable three-run margin with two outs in the bottom of the first.

“I think this is a really important district win,” Howard said. “(Central) beat Zachary just the other day. We have some goals in mind for district. Getting this one was an important step.”

With the win, Live Oak is 11-2 and 2-0 in 4-5A. Leadoff hitter Ashton Priester finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Gisselle Ash was 1-for-2 with an RBI. Lauren Brown finished 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI.

No player had multiple hits or an extra base hit for Central (9-2, 1-1). Pitcher Heather Zumo, Bayleigh Anders, Emily Danehower and River Hubbard had the hits for the Wildcats.

“I call our district the SEC of high school softball,” Central coach Michelle Efferson said. “It’s like this every game, and we’re still fairly young so this is something we can learn from.

“ (Live Oak) did a great job. The pitcher handcuffed us, and they have some girls who can hit the ball. They got some timely hits.”

Hall yielded a single to Anders in the top of the first inning and then settled in. The Eagles quickly did their part of the plate. Priester reached on a bunt that landed inches from the plate, moved to second on Brown’s groundout and scored on Ash’s single. Howard followed one out later with her home run.

Central got runners in scoring position three times. The most serious threats were in the third and sixth innings. Two groundouts ended the third. Hall wiggled out of the other jam with a flyout and a strikeout that featured back-to-back rise balls.

LOHS added its other run in the fifth when Priester reached on a single, stole second and scored on Brown’s double.

“It’s a huge game,” LOHS coach Michelle Morris said. “I know it’s the beginning of district, but when you’re both unbeaten, you know somebody is going to take that loss. In this district, that can be big. It’s so important to win at home.

“Central’s a great hitting ballclub. I thought Savannah did a good job moving the ball around. She mixed her rotations and her speeds. She made them guess.”