This is a different Beaufort High School softball team than the one Bluffton High School had seen in the past.
And so the Bobcats might have expected the Eagles to threaten their early lead. When they did, Bluffton turned to what has helped it all season, with players trusting they have the better team.
Third baseman Kim Kerby's two-run home run in the seventh inning helped Bluffton win 6-5 on Friday at Beaufort High, after the Eagles had rallied to tie the game in the sixth inning. Kerby's shot, off a screwball from Beaufort High pitcher Jenny Mullins, was a line shot to center field.
"I was just looking for a base hit to score Morganne (Parker)," said Kerby, who has four home runs on the season. "I hit it off somewhere wrong, because it hurt my hand. I'm just glad it went out."
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Bluffton (10-1, 4-1 Region 8-AAAA) maintained its edge in region play. Beaufort High dropped to 2-3 in the region with five games remaining.
The parity in the region has claimed a number of victims. Beaufort High has losses to Summerville and Ashley Ridge before Friday. Bluffton's lone loss came to Colleton County, which Beaufort High handled earlier this week.
"Everybody's beating everybody," Bluffton coach Bill Ball said. "It's crazy."
The Eagles had a chance to mix things up further. Down 4-0 after a shaky third inning, the Eagles' defense kept them in the game. Mullins only faced 11 batters the next three innings.
This new rivalry, which included some heated moments Friday, was fueled when Beaufort High tied the game in the bottom of the sixth after two runs scored on a passed ball and throwing error.
But Parker started the seventh with a base hit and Kerby sent them both home two batters later.
"I know I've got a good team," Ball said. "They just keep working on execution, and we keep winning ball games."
Beaufort High's chance at a larger rally in the sixth slowed when a call was overturned and a run taken off the board. Beaufort High's Mari Cook had reached on what was originally ruled a strikeout and passed ball, scoring a run. But after umpires met, the play was ruled a foul tip and Cook sent back to the batter's box.
Eagles coach Doug Plank knew after an intense scrimmage with Bluffton before the season to expect a competitive game. He and Ball met coaching youth softball and later formed a travel ball team and now trade friendly barbs.
Plank ceded one to his friend Friday, but said the Eagles are still in good position and that Friday's result shouldn't be reason to stay down.
"This is the way softball should be played," Plank said. "Great defense and a lot of good hitting, good pitching. Everybody from both teams can be proud of this game."
Bluffton 004 000 2 -- 6 8 3
Beaufort High 001 003 1 -- 5 7 1
W: Courtney Smith 7 IP, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 H, 10 K, 1 BB.
L: Jenny Mullins 7 IP, 6 R, 6 ER, 8 H, 5 K, 2 BB .
Top hitters: Bluffton -- Kim Kerby 3 for 3, HR, 2 RBIs; Morganne Parker 2 for 4, 2 R. Beaufort High -- Michelle Brown 3 for 4, 2 R, SB.