Bluffton High School softball's season-long trump card came up aces yet again Friday night.
Pitcher Courtney Smith overcame a tight strike zone to fan 14 batters, leading the top-seeded Bobcats to a 4-1 win over Cane Bay in the first round of the Class 4-A District 8 softball playoffs.
With the win, the Bobcats kept themselves in the winners bracket in the double-elimination format, though they had to fight through a series of rallies to do so. The visiting Cobras cycled through a series of selective hitters, prolonging counts and taking advantage of a strict zone.
"They just underwhelmed us to death," head coach Bill Ball said of the Cobras' deliberate approach. "I don't know what else to say. After they kicked the ball around a lot, they simply just made plays. They were very patient at the plate. Holy smokes."
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The Bobcat bats also struggled to create the kind of offense Ball has become accustomed to, though they did capitalize on four first-inning errors to take a 3-0 lead. Third baseman Kim Kerby knocked in a run with a single to center, and later scored a run of her own after a third-inning double.
"I've been thinking a lot at the plate," Kerby said. "I've been psyching myself out. So basically I'm just trying to get a good pitch to hit and help my team out."
It was Smith who would steal the show, though. Despite at times showing frustration in the circle as a few close calls didn't break her way, Smith mowed down hitter after hitter, striking out the side in three of her seven innings. One of the cornerstones of the Bobcats all season, Smith raised her game for the playoff opener, making adjustments as the contest wore on.
"We just changed pitches and worked on shortening at-bats," Smith said. "I know I've got defense behind me. In a way I want them to hit it. They just weren't swinging at strikes that were called balls."
Ball said his team played well enough, but said the lineup found it difficult to make clean contact. After facing many fast pitchers during the regular season, the Bobcats struggled to time Cobra hurler Beth Bourgeois. Between that and Smith laboring through a few innings, Bluffton had to work for everything it earned on the scoreboard.
"We had our struggles tonight," Ball said. "She gets frustrated when the strike zone is a little narrow. She battled. We changed a little bit how we were approaching our pitches."
Smith said this was a heavy workload, but was planning to ice her arm and get a good night's sleep. The Bobcats take on Dutch Fork, one of the teams to beat, according to Ball, Saturday at 3 p.m. in Bluffton. Asked if she would be ready to go, Smith sounded confident.
"Oh yeah," Smith said. "Definitely."
Cane Bay 1 4 6
Bluffton 4 7 2
WP -- Courtney Smith. LP -- Beth Bourgeois. Top hitters: BLF -- Kim Kerby 2-3, 2B, RBI, R.