Nerves of steel

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 4, 2003

VIDALIA, La. &045; Pressure in sports is nothing you want to accidentally bump into in a dark alley.

For those who have faint hearts, pressure will knock them to the curb and leave them stranded.

Sometimes the best way to overcome the nemesis is to get in a mindset like Vidalia’s Ashley Prince was in Thursday.

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Down to their last out in the third, the Vikings (18-5-1, 3-0 district 3-2A) got a bases-clearing triple from Prince to put them ahead 3-2 and went on to clinch their second straight district title with a 6-3 victory over Crowville (15-9-1, 1-2).

&uot;I’ve been having problems slinging my bat lately and the only thing I was thinking when I went up was, ‘Don’t sling the bat,’&uot; Prince said. &uot;I knew we needed those key runs. I took my swing and popped it over the centerfielder’s head.&uot;

The first three batters in the Vikings’ order reached base on a single and back-to-back walks from Crowville starter Lauren Monroe.

But Monroe, who wore her emotions on her rolled-up sleeves, battled back to get Vidalia catcher Jaci Deweese on a strikeout and first baseman Christy Corley on a pop-up to Bulldog second baseman Maggie Gilbert.

&uot;I thought for a minute there we weren’t going to get anything out of the bases being loaded,&uot; Vikings head coach Gary Parnham said. &uot;We were sort of sleepwalking through the first few innings. But we don’t do anything easy around here.&uot;

Up stepped Prince, who watched the first pitch go for a ball, before tattooing a fastball over Crowville centerfielder Mindy Bradley’s head, as one, two, three Vikings scored with Prince finding Parnham holding her at third.

Despite the damage being done, Prince was stranded at third when Monroe struck out the next batter Kelsey Leake on three straight pitches.

A red-faced Monroe with a cold frustrated stare stomped back to the dugout, aghast that she gave up the two-run lead her offense provided for her in the top half of the third.

&uot;(Monroe) got out of her game for a while there and was missing her spots,&uot; Bulldog head coach Curt Curtis said. &uot;She has been our emotional leader and inspires the girls. Her spirit keeps the girls in the game, which allows me to sit back and do my job.&uot;

Crowville made it tough for the Vikings’ senior class to pick up their third district title in four years.

After walking the leadoff batter in the third, Vidalia’s Miranda Doughty retired the next two batters before the next batter chopped a grounder to shortstop Heather Miller.

Miller opted to go to third for the last out, but her throw was wide and allowed Bradley to be safe there and Gilbert, the batter, to reach second.

Monroe gave herself some support by flaring a single in no-man’s land between Miller and second baseman Emily Raley to score the game’s first two runs.

&uot;We jumped out to an early lead, but then gave up that hit and a couple walks (in the third) and it sort of knocked the wind out of us,&uot; Curtis said. &uot;But we came back and kept battling. Hopefully that will continue into the playoffs.&uot;

Miller redeemed herself at the plate in the fourth by collecting what proved to be the game-winning run-batted-in when Lauren Clayton beat Crowville shortstop Kayla Shirley’s throw home.

The Bulldogs got within a run, 4-3, in the sixth when Monroe came home to score on Kristy Wallace single.

&uot;I was nervous the whole game,&uot; said Doughty, who finished the complete game with five strikeouts. &uot;I try and not to get nervous when I’m out there on the mound. Whenever I’m frustrated I have to remain confident that our offense will get back any runs I gave up.&uot;

Just as Monroe did it from the plate early on, Doughty gave the Vikings an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth with another triple over Bradley’s head that scored Miller all the way from first.

Parnham was tickled with the way Doughty threw the ball and feels privileged to have a rotation of her, Corley and Jenny Watson to put on the mound any time.

The seventh-year head coach also liked seeing the character of his team being tested, knowing that will payoff come the fast approaching postseason.

&uot;I’ve had teams that if they got down that would’ve been it and teams that have responded when it got tight,&uot; Parnham said. &uot;This team really hadn’t established who they were until this week. To be down 2-0 and for them to show me they still had some fight left in them, I like that especially come playoff time.&uot;