CLOVER — The Clover High School softball team – two-time defending Region 3-AAAA champions and unbeaten in region play this season – opens state playoff action Thursday at home.
Not surprisingly, the Lady Blue Eagles received a No. 1 seed in the 4A playoff double-elimination format.
The starting time and opponent for Thursday’s first-round playoff opener had yet to be determined when the Enquirer-Herald went to press.
“Our kids enter the playoffs playing with confidence,” said Clover head coach Shea Hall. “We can draw from our playoff experience last year. We were unbeaten in the region and finished the season strong.”
The Clover team finished the season on a tear, including double-digit wins against York and Clinton.
Clover pounded 18 hits in the 15-0 win against York, with Brittany and Brooke Rhinehardt, Emily Robinson and Paige Wallert leading the way with three apiece.
With that win, the Lady Blue Eagles finished the season a perfect 14-0 in Region 3-AAAA.
“I am proud of our team,” Hall said after the York game. “It’s tough to win all of the region games. It is a competitive region.”
Clover followed the York win with a doubleheader sweep of host Clinton on Saturday. After moving ahead 2-1 in the first inning of the first game, the Lady Blue Eagles broke the game open with a five-run second inning.
Pitcher Elizabeth Edmunds got things started with a solid single. After Paige Wallert reached base on a bunt single, a throwing error by Clinton sent Cayman Tsiukes – pinch-running for Edmunds – across the plate.
Moments later, Brittany Rhinehardt singled to score Wallert, and Brooke Rhinehardt’s double scored twin sister Brittany.
Marisa Harkey then reached on an error, sending another Clover run across the plate. Madison Tepfenhart’s run-scoring single closed out the second-inning scoring.
Clinton scored three runs in the bottom of the second, slicing Clover’s lead to 7-4. But the Lady Blue Eagles plated two runs in the third and had a seven-run fifth en route to a 16-6 win.
Harkey, Tepfenhart, Emily Robinson and Edmunds each delivered RBI hits during the fifth-inning scoring barrage.
Tepfenhart became Clinton’s worst nightmare in the Saturday doubleheader with 5-for-5 at the plate, including a walk. “I waited on my pitch and got the big part of the bat on the ball,” catcher Tepfenhart said.
“Stepping to the plate with confidence has a lot to do with hitting the ball,” said Tepfenhart, who has signed to play for Newberry College next season.
Tepfenhart knowledge of sophomore Edmund’s repertoire also makes a difference in games..
“Elizabeth’s go-to pitch is the screwball,” Tepfenhart said of the pitch that breaks the opposite way of the curveball.
“She has an off-speed pitch that keeps the hitters off balance. She will throw her fastball on the inside or outside corner of the plate, but not down the middle.”
After scoring three runs in the first inning of game two to grab the lead, Clover pushed six runs across in the second inning and never looked back.
Hannah Curtis reached base when the Clinton catcher mishandled the ball on a strikeout. After Morgan Graves singled, Brittany and Brooke Rhinehardt delivered RBIs in much the same manner as the first game.
Blake Wallert had a sacrifice fly RBI, and back-to-back doubles by Harkey and Tepfenhart produced another Clover run.
Robinson scored on a wild pitch to close out the scoring.
Clinton got four runs in the fifth but it was not enough as the visitors from Blue Eagle Country prevailed 15-4.
Edmunds said after the game that maintaining focus is crucial to the Lady Blue Eagles’ playoff hopes.
“When we play up to our potential, we feel we can beat anybody,” she said. “The key is to play our game and not make errors.”
Edmunds feels good about her pitching at this stage of the season. “I always pitch with confidence when I’m on the mound,” she said. “I am excited about our chances in the playoffs.”
“We’re capable of making a deep run in the playoffs,” Hall said. “We are excited about having a No. 1 seed and to be playing at home to start the playoffs.”