(Cover photo credit: Sam Draut)
The 28th District championship game started well for Eastern (19-17) when leadoff hitter Peyton Mills singled to begin the night and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. But, seventh-ranked Ballard (24-8) took the momentum and cruised to a 6-1 win on a dominating performance from senior pitcher Akilah Mouzon.
Ballard scored four runs in the first inning following a double-play to end the top half of the first. Bruin second baseman Brenna Dunlap ranged into foul territory to catch a fly ball down the first base line, and then threw to third as Mills tried to advance bases. Ballard’s coach Alan Jones believes the double-play in the top half of the first inning set the tone for the game.
“That was huge,” said Jones. “Then we came out and attacked.”
Eastern coach Dean Taylor said it was a base-running mistake and “could have changed the momentum of the game.”
Bruin right fielder Catie Barber knocked in a run with a triple and Ballard took advantage of two Eastern errors.
“We made too many errors and mental mistakes,” Taylor said. “We didn’t come out ready. That was the difference in the game, the first inning.”
Staked to a four-run lead, Mouzon found more of rhythm in the second inning.
“It is really exciting because you know that they have to score to win,” Mouzon said. “When we come out and score four runs, it puts a lot less pressure on the pitcher.”
Mouzon struck out the side in the second inning and worked perfect frames in the third, fourth and fifth innings. She relaxed and focused on each individual pitch to make sure she didn’t get too ahead of herself. Mouzon retired 14-straight hitters.
“Akilah has a ton of movement,” Jones said. “Her speed can be deceiving because she can let up. She is a tough kid.”
While she spent a majority of the game working her pitches in and out of the zone, she escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of sixth inning after a mound visit from Jones. The head coach brought the infielder Mouzon together and told her what pitches he was going to call and to “close it out.”
“I really wanted to close out the game,” Mouzon said.
In the top of the seventh inning, Eastern got runners on second and third with two outs, but Mouzon got the final out after giving up an RBI single to KK Ernest to end her shutout bid.
Mouzon finished with a complete game four-hitter and struck out seven.
“Akilah pitched a great game,” Jones added.
On the opposite side, Eastern left five runners on base in the final two innings, a trend that the team will try to correct before Region Seven play next week.
“That has been our Achilles heel,” said Taylor. “We get people on base, but we can’t get them in. We aren’t scoring runs when we have the opportunity to score runs.”
Along with eight one-run losses this year, Taylor said his team “can’t get over the mental part of playing Ballard” as they tallied five errors on Wednesday.
Regional action begins May 30.