Ansley Clark stood in center field, stunned and in disbelief.
Forsyth Central’s softball team entered the top of the fifth inning with a two-run lead on Thursday, and with ace Bailey McCachren in the circle, the Bulldogs looked to be on track to earn a relatively simple home win against Lambert. But with one out in the fifth inning, the Longhorns’ Lindsey Nelson made hard contact with a pitch, sending the ball right for Clark, who was manning the outfield.
She ran closer and closer to the wall, leaped up and stuck out her glove, but instead of feeling the familiar impact of a catch, she felt a different sensation. She had misjudged the ball’s trajectory: It bounced off her outstretched glove and over the wall for a game-tying home run, and immediately, the guilt began to creep in.
“It was the worst,” Clark said. “I was like, ‘This can't be happening.’”
Though initially discouraged, Clark was determined to redeem herself. She had a good chance to do that immediately – she was due up first in the bottom of the sixth. After using her quickness to reach base on an error, she came around to score from first on a triple from Sydney Moroney. That run turned out to be the game-winner for the Bulldogs, who came away with a 4-3 region win.
“I felt very proud of myself that I came back very positive,” Clark said. “I didn't get down on myself.”
Clark, who led Central with two runs scored, crossed the plate for the first time in the first inning on a sacrifice bunt from Lauren Wall. A Mattie Smith single extended the Bulldogs’ early edge to 2-0. But with that early success came some missed chances -- Central left two runners on base to end that inning, and six total for the game.
“Right now everybody's just feeling each other out at the start of the season,” Central head coach Paul Cromie said. “I don't think we played our best, but again, good enough to win. There's a lot of things that we still have to work on.”
McCachren and Lambert starting pitcher Kirsten Cowart spent the next two innings methodically sitting down their opposition, but in the fourth, Lambert cut the lead to 2-1 with an RBI single from Maddie Todd before tying the game with Nelson’s home run in the fifth. McCachren allowed six hits and struck out five over her three innings of work, but the Tennessee commit is still trying to find the same kind of effectiveness that she displayed last season.
“Bailey was incredibly dominant last year, so to be able to go out and repeat that performance, I wouldn't say she's at that point yet,” Cromie said. “I will say that as she's thrown over our first six to eight games, she's without question on track to get back there.”
For Lambert, the loss was frustrating, but was an improvement over their error-filled 10-4 loss to North Forsyth on Tuesday. With the season just beginning, head coach Brooks Youngblood is making sure to keep his team focused beyond just the first week of region play.
“I think we played vastly better than we did the other night, 100 percent better,” Youngblood said. “We've just got to stay positive and make sure we see the big picture. This is a long region season and in the end, we all go to the region tournament, too. If we keep playing like that, we're fine.”