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Lady Cougars flirt with title

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP
Advance Managing Editor
The Escambia County Lady Cougars came into the AISA state playoff tournament as the number seven seed. They left as the number two team in the state after clawing their way to a shot at the state championship.
The tournament came down to EA and Shelby Academy. Shelby came into the game with no losses while EA had already been bitten once by Shelby. In order to win the title, the Lady Cougars needed to defeat them twice. Instead, Shelby won, eliminating EA and leaving them as state champs.
The Lady Cougars played some tight games along the way to that championship scenario. They held off a last-inning rally by Ashford Academy to record a 3-2 win in the opening game of the tournament on Friday.
Escambia Academy jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Meagan Jackson opened the game with a walk. Lauren Lyles followed with a single to put runners at first and third. Lyles stole second base. With one out, Krystal Hall hit a groundball that allowed Jackson to come home, giving the Lady Cougars a 1-0 lead.
Rachel Pipkin pitched a great game as she faced only 20 batters through the first six innings and gave up no runs in that time.
EA added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Jaime Drew led off the inning with a walk and Pipkin followed with a hit allowed Drew to score.
Rayleen Miller made the score 3-0 when she hit a long fly ball that allowed Pipkin to score.
But, the Ashford squad came roaring back in their final at-bat. With one out, they scored two runs. But, a fly ball ended the threat, as the tying run stood stranded on second base.
At 3 p.m. on Friday, the Lady Cougars faced their second challenge of the day as they squared off with Autauga Academy.
Offense came a bit easier for Escambia Academy as they rolled to a 10-5 victory.
Autauga the first lead of the game as they scored one run in the bottom of the second.
EA took tied the game in the top of the third. Lauren Lyles got things going with a one-out single. Lori Bonds followed with a walk. With two outs, Shelby Moore lined a base hit that sent Lyles home to tie the game at 1-1.
The Lady Cougars found more offense in the top of the fourth as Meagan Jackson, Lauren Lyles, Rachel Pipkin and Rayleen Miller each scored, giving EA a 5-1 edge.
Autauga came right back with three of their own in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to 5-4 and then they tied the game at five at in fifth.
From there it was all EA. Lyles and Bonds each scored in the sixth as Hall belted a double. They added three more in the seventh as Jackson, Pipkin and Miller each scored.
The Lady Cougars ventured back to Montgomery for their third game on Saturday at 10 a.m. But, the new day brought an early defeat as they lost the first of two games to eventual state champs, Shelby Academy.
EA wasted little time getting on the board. Jackson led off the game with a walk, moved to second on a ground ball and then stole third. She came home on a ground ball by Bonds.
Shelby's lead-off hitter also reached and then scored to tie the game at 1-1.
EA took the lead back in the top of the second. Kristen Lyles led off the inning with a single and stole second. She remained there until Miller lined a two-out single that gave the Lady Cougars a 2-1 edge.
They added another to their lead in the top of the fifth as L. Lyles smacked a triple and then scored on a groundball by Bonds.
But, Shelby took off in the bottom of the fifth, scoring four runs on three walks, a double and a triple, to take a 5-3 lead, which would be all they needed for a victory.
With one loss, the Lady Cougars needed a win to advance to the state championship game. A loss would put them out of the tournament.
They came through with plenty of offense when they needed it most as they outslugged South Montgomery Christian Academy in extra innings, 14-12.
SMCA scored two runs in the top of the first and then added four more in the second to take a 6-0 lead.
EA got back in the game in the bottom of the second as Meagan Jackson, L. Lyles, K. Lyles, Jaime Drew and Pipkin each scored. K. Lyles reached base with a double and Drew followed by reaching on an error by the SMCA infield. Pipkin drove in both runners with a single. Jackson and L. Lyles both reached on singles which drove in Pipkin and then advanced to second and third on a passed ball. Both scored on a single by Krystal Hall which cut the SMCA lead to 6-5.
EA took their first lead in the third as errors helped lead to two runs. K. Lyles and Drew both reached on errors and then were driven home with a single by Miller.
The Lady Cougars made the score 8-6 in the fourth as Bonds scored on a groundball by Shelby Moore.
South Montgomery tied the game at eight in the fifth as error led to two runs.
K. Lyles and Drew both drew walks in the sixth. Pipkin then belted a single that brought both runners home and gave EA a 10-8 lead. They added another in the seventh as Bonds scored.
Three outs from advancing, EA couldn't hold back SMCA in the bottom of the seventh as they came around to score three runs to tie the game, 11-11.
In extra innings, the Lady Cougars Rayleen Miller, L. Lyles and Bonds all came around to score to give them a 14-11 edge.
SMCA could only muster one run of their own in the bottom of the eighth to give the Lady Cougars a shot at the title.
The championship game gave the Lady Cougars another shot at the only team that had defeated them in the tournament – Shelby Academy.
The game was extremely close, but Shelby came through with two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, to take a one-run victory, 4-3, and the state title.
L. Lyles gave the Lady Cougars their first lead as she reached on an error in the first inning and scored on a single by K. Lyles.
Defense and pitching took control of the game until the fifth inning when EA added to their lead.
Rayleen Miller led off the inning by reaching on an error. She came around to score on a sacrifice by Bonds, giving EA a 2-0 edge.
Shelby began to show signs of life in the sixth as they scored two runs to tie the game.
But, EA brought another runner around in the top of the seventh. Miller reached base on a fielder's choice play and then scored on a two-out double by L. Lyles. The run gave the Lady Cougars a 3-2 edge and they were three outs away from a chance at the title.
But, Shelby Academy delivered in the bottom of the inning with two runs to take the lead and secure the state title.
Had EA won the game, they would have had to play Shelby Academy again as it would have been their first defeat. The tournament is double elimination.
Pipkin, L. Lyles and Bonds each pitched for Escambia Academy during the tournament.
EA Head Coach Helen Lassiter was pleased with this year's season and the tournament.
The Lady Cougars finish the season with an overall record of 12-12.