Three straight losses by virtue of the mercy rule early in the season were a wake-up call for the Tigers.
But they learned from those dark nights.
That was clearly evident Monday night against Trinity Christian Academy.
The Tigers fell into a 5-0 hole in the first inning but never surrendered, responding with run after run before Dara Gaylard’s two-RBI single in the fifth inning triggered the mercy rule for a 16-6 victory over the Conquerors.
Alaina Perry was extremely pivotal in the win, finishing 2-for-2 with two home runs, four RBI and three runs scored before being walked by Trinity Christian pitcher Mo Smith in her final two at-bats to avoid any further damage at the plate.
The junior provided confidence for her teammates in the bottom of the first when she sent a home run over the centerfield wall with two outs that cut Trinity Christian’s lead to 5-3.
“We had two outs and we were really behind, and we really needed a run, so that first home run really brought everybody up, like, ‘We got this,’” said Perry, who now has five home runs on the year. “Everybody can be just like me. As long as you put the bat on the ball, it will go somewhere.”
Her teammates’ bats certainly followed, with eight of the nine batters in the lineup registering at least one hit for a total of 14 off Smith as the Tigers won their fourth straight and sixth of their last seven.
Columbia (9-8) also avenged a 9-8 loss at Trinity Christian on March 11.
“Alaina’s home run was huge because it pumped everyone back up,” Columbia head coach Trudy Andrews said. “They had seen (Smith) earlier in the season, and they knew they could battle back. But these girls are gamers, and that’s what’s going to make the difference between a good team and a great team. They pick each other up when they need to be picked back up.”
Perry also helped settle everyone in with her play on the mound. The junior relieved starter Cris’Deona Beasley after she gave up a two-out, three-run homer to Bailey Reier that put Columbia down 5-0.
Perry pitched a scoreless second inning while Columbia struck for three more runs. After a throwing error allowed two runs in to tie the game in the second inning, Beasley sent a dinger to centerfield to give Columbia its first lead, 6-5.
Although the Conquerors would tie the game in the third off Perry on an RBI single by Emily Johnson, Perry would lift the Tigers’ spirits once again with her bat. Her second home run was solo dinger that just went over the right field foul pole for a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the third.
An RBI groundout by Story Giebeig then doubled the lead before Beasley hopped back on the mound for Columbia and cruised through the final two innings.
“Alaina did a great job coming in and giving Cris’Deona some time to get back and warm up, and she came in and pitched well that inning,” Andrews said. “And then to come in and put the bat on the ball like she did was huge.”
The fourth inning was Columbia’s biggest splurge, striking for five more runs as 10 batters came to the plate. Gaylard, who went 3-for-4 on the night with five RBI, had the biggest hit of the frame with a bases-clearing double that extended Columbia’s lead to 11-6.
Hayes Fulford and Peyton Hardin then hit RBI singles for a seven-run lead.
Tatum Morgan hit an RBI single in the fifth before Gaylard ended the game with her two-RBI single.
After struggling to score runs earlier in the season, Columbia has now plated at least seven in six of its last seven games.
“They’re listening and making adjustments, and that’s something we weren’t doing very well at the beginning of the season,” Andrews said. “Now they make the adjustments earlier, so it’s good stuff. They’re seeing the ball well.”
Next stop for the Tigers is the Kissimmee Classic, which begins Thursday against Barron Collier. The Cougars were a regional finalist a season ago and are part of a tournament field that features many of the top teams in the state, including Oakleaf and district rival Gainesville.
“We want to see that type of pitching to get us ready for the district playoffs. That’s what we want. We welcome it,” Andrews said.