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Softball: Cole stars in circle, at plate as Longhorns sweep South
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Lambert sophomore Hannah Cole runs off the field Tuesday during the Longhorns' doubleheader sweep of South Forsyth. - photo by David Roberts

The matchup was power versus power. 

Charlotte Brooks had just slugged an RBI double into right-center field to cut Lambert's lead to three runs. And with one out in the top of the seventh inning, with runners on second and third, Emme Souter came to the plate representing the tying run.

Hannah Cole was in the circle for Lambert. She dominated Game 1, and head coach Brooks Youngblood sent her back in to get the final three outs of Game 2. 

After a called first strike, Cole floated a changeup that missed outside and evened the count. Then she fired two straight riseballs, each one hitting the back of Sydney Chung's mitt — strike two and strike three.

Cole induced a game-ending pop up on the next at-bat to give Lambert a 4-1 win over South Forsyth, completing the doubleheader sweep. The Longhorns won 1-0 in Game 1.

"Both games were as close to solid as you can get," Youngblood said. "The pitching was superb — both of them. As much as Hannah Cole dominated — and you can argue maybe an error or a hit or whatever — Courtney [Sauer] was dominant too. Her drop ball was working and [they were] just beating it into the ground all night."

Cole threw a no-hitter in Game 1, allowing only two batters to reach base. Cole hit Brooks with a pitch two batters into the game, then two innings later, Josie Crossman sent a hot shot that ricocheted off Lambert third baseman Hannah Cornetto. Katelyn Boyette corralled the ball and fired to first, but Crossman beat it out. 

The play, which was ruled an error, marked South's final baserunner of the contest. 

Cole racked up seven strikeouts and greeted 20 of the 23 batters she faced with a first-pitch strike. 

"I've been working on my changeup a lot this summer," Cole said. "That was probably my No. 1 pitch. I'm getting to throw it more. I think at the beginning of the season I didn't throw it as much, but now that I'm throwing it more, it's coming back."

Cole's RBI groundout in the bottom of the first inning scored Sauer and proved to be the game-winning run, with neither team scoring again. 

Sauer repaid Cole in the fourth inning, when she made a remarkable diving catch in center field to rob Ashley Chu of a hit. 

It was part of a stellar defensive performance by both teams.

Chung made a diving catch behind home plate on a popup in foul territory, and in the fifth inning, Cornetto made a quick snag on a sharp ground ball, then followed that up by charging a bunt and firing to first in time to nab Sarah Quian.

For South, Ansley Chiang gobbled up ground balls at shortstop and finished the night with eight putouts. 

"That shortstop took away some hits. I'll tell you that," Youngblood said. "She played her butt off tonight, but we did too. I mean, Courtney; we need to get that video and send it to SportsCenter. That was phenomenal. And Sydney, too. The one behind the plate."

Crossman pitched both games for South and earned an especially tough-luck loss in Game 1. Crossman was superb, allowing only three hits and zero walks across six innings. 

Sauer pitched six shutout innings in Game 2, striking out six batters. She also scored twice — once in the first inning on a Kirsten Cowart RBI single and again after Cole's single to left field.

Sauer ran into trouble in the seventh inning, when Crossman's infield single began the inning and Ressie Burch was hit by a pitch to give the War Eagles runners on first and second with nobody out. 

That's when Youngblood turned to Cole.

"I think if you've got that bullet in your gun, you've got to shoot it," Youngblood said. "You've got her, and she had pitched 70 pitches in Game 1, so she was still pretty fresh. Courtney's been phenomenal, but you get in a situation like that and you don't want to leave a game without firing everything you've got."

Cole got Chiang to fly out before giving up an RBI double to Brooks, then buckled in to retire the next two batters, including a momentous strikeout against Souter.

"I was a little nervous, because she might have hit one over at our last game," Cole said. "I was really trying to keep the ball out of the zone so there wouldn't be any chance of her smashing it."

Cole faced the War Eagles last week, too, striking out 12 batters in a 12-2 win. Cole gave up only two hits in that outing, though both were home runs — one from Souter and one by Chiang.

This time was different, especially with Cole entering in relief in the seventh inning with the outcome of the game in her hands. 

"Well, Courtney pitched her butt off. She pitched great," Cole said. "The dugout on South, they were getting a little loud, and I was obviously a little nervous, but I like those situations. I like being under pressure."

Lambert [12-4, 6-2 Region 6-7A] has won nine straight games since opening region play with a doubleheader loss to North Forsyth. The Longhorns will continue region play at 6 p.m. Thursday with a trip to Denmark.

"I told these girls after we got swept by North that I want to host a playoff series," Youngblood said. "We haven't hosted a playoff series in a while. We've been in the playoffs, but I want to host it here. It's a beautiful place. I want to get this thing ready to go and beautiful for the October games. I think they can do it."

South [6-10, 4-5 Region 6-7A] will look to rebound 6 p.m. Thursday at Forsyth Central.