CLEVELAND — With his team leading 6-0 in Game 1 against White County, Ridgeland coach Scott Harden decided to pull his starting pitcher Jessie Forrester to save her arm for Game 2, and possibly Game 3.
The sixth-ranked Panthers (21-7) won’t be playing a Game 3.
Harden’s strategy worked to perfection as Forrester struck out 12 Warriors and surrendered only two hits in a 4-0 win and a two-game sweep of White County (19-10) in the first round of the Class AAA softball playoffs.
“She shut us down completely,” White County coach John Brown said of Forrester. “We really had no threat to score.”
The Warriors best chance came in the second inning of Game 2 when Lindsey Messmore hit a one-out double to right and Aubrie Gstalder hit a single to right to give White County runners on first and third with two out. But Forrester got out of the jam by striking out the next batter she faced and not allowing a hit for the rest of the game.
“She’s been consistent all year,” Harden said of his ace. “She moves the ball well and gives our offense a good chance to stay in the game.”
That proved to be true in the top of the fourth when Kara Goins hit a lead-off double and scored two batters later on an RBI bunt from Chelsey Sizemore.
The Panthers might have blown the game open in that inning if not for the play of White County catcher Kristen Mullis, who threw out two base runners trying to steal second.
One run was all Forrester needed as she struck out her fourth batter in a row to start the bottom of the fourth and three more in the following two innings.
Like they did in their 8-0 Game 1 win, the Panthers opened the game up in the top of the seventh by scoring three runs on four hits, including doubles from Haley Lawson, Forrester and Courtnee Hall.
Forrester struck out two of the final three hitters she faced to end the game and White County’s season.
“We knew they were a good softball team,” Brown said. “We knew we’d have our hands full.”
Despite the loss, Brown said he was able to take solace in the fact that his team loses only one senior and has reached the playoffs for three straight years.
“It’s definitely a positive for next year and it’s exciting in that way,” Brown said. “I’m proud of the girls, but Ridgeland just was a better team today.”
RIDGELAND 8, WHITE COUNTY 0: Hall hit a two-run homerun in the fourth inning to open the scoring in the Panthers’ shutout win in Game 1.
Ridgeland added four runs in the fifth on a bunt single by Lawson that scored Mallory Epperson and back to back sacrifice flies by Caitlyn Lance and Hall.
The Panthers continued the scoring in the seventh, sparked by back-to-back doubles from Lawson and Taylor Hodges.
Not only did Ridgeland shine offensively, but its two pitchers, Forrester and Hannah Tucker, combined to throw a one-hitter.
White County’s lone hit came in the fourth inning off the bat of Laura Sangster.