High School Sports

Bobcats suffer first loss in softball districts

Bluffton High School has been up against this drill before. Bobcats coach Bill Ball made sure to remind his team of that much.

The season isn't over, he told his players as they gathered around the dugout Saturday.

But things certainly became a step harder Saturday. Hartsville handed Bluffton a 7-5 defeat Saturday afternoon, sending the Bobcats to the losers bracket of the Class 3-A double-elimination district tournament.

The Bobcats will host Crestwood at 6 p.m. Monday in a win-or-go-home game. The winner will travel to Hartsville and need to sweep a doubleheader to advance.

It's familiar territory for the Bobcats, who despite making the playoffs seven straight years, have never advanced past the district tournament.

"I have no doubt we can still win," Ball said. "The key is that you understand that you can compete with all the teams in your district -- we've shown that. If we bring our 'A' game next game, I have a lot of confidence in my girls."

They had a win in their grasp Saturday with the chance to take control of the district tournament.

Bluffton freshman ace Courtney Smith breezed through the first three innings without allowing a hit to Hartsville's potent lineup. Morgan Parker and Melissa Peebles -- who combined for five of the Bobcats' seven hits -- delivered run-scoring singles in the third inning to give the Bobcats an early 2-0 lead.

That seemed as if it may be all Smith needed after she shut out Crestwood on Friday for a 1-0 victory.

The Red Foxes responded the second time through their order, though, and Smith struggled to find the strike zone while pitching on back-to-back days. Hartsville scored all seven of its runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, aided by three Bluffton errors and seven walks.

"We thought we weren't going to be able to handle her pitching because we heard she was good," said Hartsville outfielder Marilyn Smith, who drove in two runs with two hits. "But we were able to adjust to what she was throwing. We had to keep our minds straight about not thinking about her rise ball."

The Bobcats made similar adjustments to Hartsville starter Cayla Drotar. After a silent first two frames, they had at least two baserunners in four of the final five innings.

Bluffton failed to capitalize on most of those opportunities, leaving seven runners on base over that time span. The Bobcats brought the trying run to the plate with two outs in the bottom half of the seventh, but Chelsea Funk flew out to centerfield to end the game.

Hartsville 7, Bluffton 5

H 000 142 0 -- 7 8 4

B 002 020 1 -- 5 7 3

WP: Cayla Drotar 5 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 6 K.

LP: Courtney Smith 6 IP, 7 R, 5 ER, 8 H, 7 BB, 9 K.

Hitters: Hartsville -- Marilyn Smith 2 for 3, 2B, 2 RBI, R, Jordan Bizzell 2 for 4, 3B, 2 R, RBI, Katie Parker 1 for 2, 2 BB, 2 R, Cayla Drotar 2 for 4, 2B; Bluffton -- Melissa Peebles 3 for 4, 2B, R, 2 RBI, Morgan Parker 2 for 4, R, RBI, Taylor Lammy 0 for 1, 2 BB, 2 R.

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