The Bluffton High School softball team finds itself in an unusual position heading into Game 2 of the Class 4-A state championship series on Wednesday.
For the first time in months, the Bobcats (27-4) are coming off a loss, having dropped a tight contest in Game 1, 3-2, at Upper State champion Byrnes.
It was a game of missed opportunities and close calls. The Bobcats had the tying run on third in the bottom of the seventh, only to come up empty. But rather than engender further tension in the ranks, coach Bill Ball said Tuesday that neither he nor his team are down or lingering on defeat. Rather, they know how close they are to turning the best-of-three series around.
"Very confident," Ball said. "My kids were having a good practice, and I think we'll be ready to play.
"Early in that game, we didn't do a real good job at the plate as far as pitch selection or getting sacrifices down to move runners. That was our focus today in practice, working on hitting better pitches and being a little more selective."
That selectivity may make it easier facing Byrnes hurler Bailey Pearson, who struck out 11 Bluffton batters, especially in the familiar confines of their home park.
"They knew what was at stake," Ball said of his team. "There was a little bit of nerves going on. It was a pretty hostile environment up there."
Pitcher Courtney Smith threw well enough to limit Byrnes to just three runs, but walked in a run with the bases loaded on a close pitch that Ball said he thought was on the corner. Ball believes Smith is ready for an even more pressure-packed environment Wednesday, when a loss would end Bluffton's school-record-breaking season.
"She's not a pitcher that's afraid to throw her pitches," Ball said.
Their opponents will be looking to close the series before it has a chance to move to a yet-to-be-determined neutral side for a potential Game 3 Friday. Ball knows it will be a tough task.
"That team seems to have a lot of desire," Ball said of the Rebels. "They're playing good ball. That's what really impressed me. I told my girls, it's like we're playing ourselves."
Class 4-A State Championship Series
Byrnes (25-4) vs. Bluffton (27-4)
6 p.m., Bluffton High School
* Byrnes leads series 1-0