For weeks, Aynor softball coach Tony Mills figured the road to a Region VIII-AA title would inevitably come down to his team and another of the state’s powerhouses, Dillon.
The Blue Jackets one win from earning a league title and accomplishing the first of many goals set at the beginning of the season, the rival Wildcats did their part to ensure there would not be a celebration at their disposal.
A five-run fifth inning allowed Dillon to seize control of its Region VIII-AA showdown Tuesday night, combining with a strong pitching effort by Tori Grimsley to shut down a potent Aynor offense en route to a 7-3 victory.
“I told the kids earlier we did a good job preparing for this game, felt we were in a good mental state and thought we would come out and play well,” Mills said. “But we came out early and made mistakes we don’t typically make, fielding and throwing. But you have to give Dillon credit, they’re a great program and got timely hits when they needed them.”
Scoring a pair of runs in the second, it seemed this game would wind up just like the others, with Aynor using its balanced lineup to pound out hits at will.
Dillon, however, had other ideas.
The Wildcats cut into the lead in the third, when Marissa Tyndall sent through the left side of the Blue Jackets’ infield, allowing Auh’Kieria Smiling to cross home plate.
With Aynor’s lead still 2-1 in the fifth, Smiling would again be the one to start the rally, the lefty sending a Brooke Elliott pitch the opposite way for a double. From there, the next seven Dillon batters would reach – six of them by way of base hits – scoring five runs and creating a hole the Blue Jackets simply were unable to dig out of.
A strong presence at the top of the Wildcats’ lineup, Smiling went 2-for-3 on Tuesday night, while Tyndall went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
Grimsley had a little to do with that. The left-hander spent much of the night keeping a solid Aynor lineup guessing, with only five Blue Jackets getting on base after the second inning.
“(Grimsley) hit her spots and let the defense work behind her, and that’s what a good pitcher does,” Mills said. “Tonight just wasn’t our night. We did not play our best game tonight, when you get in big games like this, you have to bring your best and we didn’t do that. One or two mistakes will cost you.”
Despite its dream of an undefeated season no longer part of the equation, the goal of a region championship is still out there for Aynor, along with much more.
“We’re going to come back to practice (Wednesday) and find out the things we did right and the things we did wrong,” Mill said. “The most important game is the next one on the schedule. … We better be prepared to play and then we’ll find out about the region.”
▪ W: Tori Grimsley L: Brooke Elliott Top hitters: DIL: Auh’Kieria Smiling 2-for-3, 2 R; Marissa Tyndall 2-for-4, 2 RBI, R; Brittany Miller 2-for-3, R. AYN: Brooke Elliott 2-for-4, RBI; Taylor Charlton 1-for-3, R; Felicia Tracy 1-for-3, 2B; Layna Johnson 1-for-3, 3B.
▪ Records: AYN 12-1, 8-1 Region VIII-AA.