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Elation turns to heartbreak for Lambert softball in first-round playoff loss
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Forsyth County News

Game 3 (First Round, Best of 3)

Lambert 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 1
Etowah  1 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 2

Pitching:

Marissa Guimbarda (Lambert) — 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 3 K

Maddie Billings (Etowah) — 7 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K

Batting:

Lambert

Savannah Huffstetler: 2-4, R

Macy Stovall: 2-4, 2B, RBI

Guimbarda: 2-3

Etowah

Skylar Wallace: 1-2, 2B, 2 BB, 2 R, 2 SB

Emma Erwin: 2-3

Teresa Barry: 2-3

A word of advice to future Etowah opponents: do not, under any circumstances, allow Skylar Wallace to reach base.

Lambert coach Brooks Youngblood, exasperated as the freshman catcher strode to the plate for a third time, called back-to-back changeups — and Marissa Guimbarda threw two strikes. Wallace stepped out of the batter’s box, smiled at Youngblood as if to say, ‘you got me ... this time,’ and grounded out, the only plate appearance she didn't reach safely.

Wallace — and this is no exaggeration — was the Etowah offense. She doubled to lead off the game and later scored, then walked, stole second, stole third and scored the game-winning run in the seventh on a Lambert error as Etowah took down Lambert, 2-1, in Game 3 to advance to the second round of the state playoffs.

“I wish Wallace was on my team,” Youngblood said. “You don’t know how to pitch girls like that.”

Etowah freshman pitcher Maddie Billings worked all 14 innings on Wednesday night, but Lady Eagles coach Victoria Brown sent Billings back to the mound for Game 3 less than 24 hours later.

“She was sore, but she said, ‘I want the ball,’” Brown said. “At this point, she’s the one I want to have the ball in her hands.”

Billings held the Lady Longhorns scoreless through 6 2/3 innings on Thursday night — until Lambert senior shortstop Savannah Huffstetler stepped up.

The Tennessee commit singled to center and senior Macy Stovall, committed to play at Mercer, roped a double to the fence in right-center. Huffstetler raced home ahead of the relay and sprung up to high-five freshman third baseman Kassidy Krupit with both hands.

“I looked at Huff there in the 7th and just said, ‘it’s on us,’” Stovall said. “We were going to get a run, there was no doubt.”

Lambert struggled in the first two games and, to a lesser extent, in Game 3, to lay off pitches out of the strike zone. Billings was no Greg Maddux, but the Lady Longhorns chased her rise balls above the zone and breaking balls below the strike zone.

Billings struck out the side in the fifth inning and struck out seven Lambert hitters in total on Thursday; the freshman tallied 19 strikeouts in 21 innings in the series.

“We were just swinging at everything, which was the case in all three games — swinging at the bad pitches and watching the good pitches,” Stovall said.

Youngblood wavered all day Thursday on whether Guimbarda or Krupit would start Game 3. In the end, it was Guimbarda, the Lady Longhorns’ No. 1 all season. Youngblood didn’t out-think himself.

“Just in my gut, I knew I had to go with her,” Youngblood said. “I told her 40 minutes before the game, ‘you’re it.’ She did exactly what we needed and kept us in a one-run ballgame until the seventh inning.”

Guimbarda, a sophomore, limited Etowah to five hits and two runs over seven innings after struggling with her command in a Game 1 loss.

After Wallace scored to give Etowah a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Guimbarda worked five shutout innings, giving up just two hits.

“Marissa did awesome. She shut them down,” Huffstetler said. “I think coach has to be happy with that decision. We all had confidence in her.”

Guimbarda held every Etowah hitter in check — except for Wallace.

“Before the first inning we had said that, pretty much, if [Wallace] gets on, we’d be down 1-0, and that's exactly what happened,” Youngblood said. “For the most part, Marissa did a great job of working around her and getting everybody else out. That’s great for her to step back up.”

The Lady Longhorns will rue missed opportunities to get the big hit; Lambert left eight runners on base, five of them at second or third base. On three separate occasions, a Lady Longhorn struck out to end an inning and strand a runner (or two) in scoring position.

Billings held her nerve every time, even as Stovall stood as the go-ahed run on second base with two outs in the seventh. The freshman got her travel softball teammate Krupit to look at a borderline called third strike.

“That’s been our one downfall — whether or not we could stay calm,” Brown said. “If this had been earlier in the season, we probably don’t respond the same way. We’ve been through these games now, and our girls have each other’s backs.”

Never was that more evident than the bottom of the seventh, after Lambert, down to its final out, had tied the game. Wallace walked with one out, swiped second without a throw, stole third base easily, and plated the winning run when Payton Curtis’ line drive to shallow center field was dropped.

The Lady Eagles spilled out of their dugout to form a mob and Skylar Wallace, fittingly, was at the center of it all again.