Brittany Craig smiles a lot, bounces around a great deal, and generally seems to have a good time on the softball field. And on Saturday afternoon, she expended an inordinate amount of energy in becoming a key reason why Benton will advance to Sulphur for the LHSAA Class 4A state softball tournament next weekend.
In addition to retrieving Gabby Kespelher’s pitches throughout the afternoon, the spritely Craig slammed a triple to right center in the fifth inning, plating Savannah Collo and Abi Cole to tie the game. She then avoided a tag and scored the winning run on an infield single by Sammy Jo Maranto.
Benton center fielder Chelsea Rangel sealed the deal in the seventh when she threw out Assumption’s Amanda Gianelloni trying to stretch an off-the-fence single into a double.
The victory for the Lady Tigers pits them against District 1-4A foe North DeSoto on Friday at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinals of Fast Pitch 56 on Frasch Park field No. 16.
“It feels amazing. This was their goal – to make it to the state tournament,” Benton coach Michelle Owens said. “This game was about defense. They kept getting on base and our defense stepped up. That last play with Chelsea was big.”
With a full crowd on hand in both stands, the Mustangs (15-16) took charge early and put massive pressure on the Lady Tigers’ defense. Assumption had a super-charged offense keyed by Gianelloni, a Nicholls-commit, and were solid defensively behind pitcher Kirstyn Torres, a University of Mobile-commit.
The Mustangs left two runners on in each of the first two innings and wasted a double by Jordan Langlois after a base running error in the third.
“We made too many mistakes on the bases and left too many runners stranded,” Assumption coach Kirk Delatte said. “We played good defense for most of the game, but our mistakes got us.”
The visitors had the momentum in the fifth when Torres singled up the middle and Gianelloni followed with a bomb that landed on the Benton track outside center field. But the Lady Tigers got the momentum back in the bottom of the frame when Collo ripped a Torres offering to right center field and stood up on second with a massive grin.
“When they scored two runs, I knew I had to step up for my team in my next at-bat,” Collo said. “Then we put some hits together and got the lead. I’m excited, mainly for my seniors. We wanted to do this for them.”
There was a little doubt creeping into the minds of the Benton faithful when the Mustangs took charge in the fifth.
“But we’ve been rallying back all year,” Owens said. “The seniors were in the dugout and were pumping everybody up. I was a little nervous, but felt pretty good coming back with the top of the lineup. And with Collo getting on, we started from there.”