With a win Wednesday, the Cumberland softball team met two significant milestones. The team defeated defending district champion Harlan on its home field, and, with the 5-4 win, took its record to a game over .500 at 7-6.
"They're learning how to win," Cumberland coach Howard White said of his team, which also improved to 3-0 in district play.
In times past, White said, the Lady Skins might have folded when their 5-1 lead through four and a half began to evaporate, especially when playing on the road in such a pressure-packed situation.
Instead, led by the five-hit, one-walk performance of pitcher Dawn Metcalf, and buoyed by defensive execution, Cumberland stopped the Harlan rally.
The Lady Dragon charge began with consecutive singles by Tierra Sundy and Tabitha Roper to begin the fifth inning. Rhonda Curtis then reached first on a fielder's choice that erased Roper at second and moved Sundy to third. Megan White drove in one run on a groundout, and Jessica Rice followed with an RBI single to bring the score to 5-3.
Megan Ball then hit a fly ball into shallow left field that Arleena Sergent ran down for the third out. White said Sergent's execution on that play was critical to preserving the lead.
"That could have broken our back," Howard White said.
Harlan came back again in the sixth, with a single from Misti Jones, who later scored on an error. Harlan could have had another base runner if a controversial bunt by Brandy Joseph had been ruled a fair ball, but nonetheless never got the tying run in scoring position.
"They waited too long to hit the ball," Harlan coach Linda Shope said of her team.
Shope added that nerves played a factor early, as her team managed only one hit, a White single to lead off the game, before the fifth inning. Yet, despite the disappointing loss, Shope still saw some encouraging signs.
"They didn't give up," she said. "They're playing with a little bit more heart."
Shope is also optimistic about her defense, which, despite five errors, is beginning to gel, the coach said.
Harlan made a few adjustments to its lineup during their weekend tournament in Danville. Roper was brought up from junior varsity to play in right field, moving Curtis to left. Joseph, who had been in left, moved to first, and Ball went from first to shortstop. The moves were made in order to improve infield defense.
"You can't have five or six errors a game in the infield," Shope said.
Meanwhile, although Cumberland prevailed, White said his team also made its share of errors, both in the field and on the basepaths.
"We made some mistakes and we gave up some runs," White said. "We've got to work on that."
One aspect of Cumberland's game that has come around lately is hitting. The Lady Skins pounded out nine hits, led by Lindsey Vicini's two doubles and Metcalf's triple and single. Jessica Creech had two singles, and Amy Boggs added a double. Lelia Childers and Nicole Franks each had singles.
"They can hit the ball," Shope said. "Cumberland's always a good hitting team."
Cumberland returns to action today at Knox Central at 5:30 p.m.
Harlan (4-11, 1-2) plays Friday at Pineville at 5 p.m.
Cumberland 001 040 0 5 9 3
Harlan 100 021 0 4 5 5
Metcalf and Childers; Rice and Sundy. WMetcalf (5-4). LRice (1-6).