Shuford leads Callaway to playoff victory over North Murray

Published 11:44 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2023

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After a tough opening playoff loss for Callaway, the team had to dig deep in its elimination game with North Murray and found a way to stave off elimination and survive and advance. The Cavaliers edged out North Murray 9-7 in a back-and-forth battle.

“The way the girls competed today was phenomenal, and obviously the first game didn’t go our way, but we were able to come back and respond in the second game,” Callaway coach Josh King said. “I’m a little lost for words because I’m so excited about the way they played today.”

When their back was against the wall, the Cavaliers needed their leaders to step up. None of them stepped up quite like senior Ava Shuford, who made sure this was not her last game in red and black.

She was a cool 2-for-4 with four RBIs and a run scored.

“Ava Shuford is just a big-time senior for us,” King said. “You saw what she did on the field, but she was also keeping us up in the dugout and keeping the girls motivated.”

She made plays in the most opportune moments for Callaway, driving in two runs with a single in the bottom of the sixth to put her side up 8-5. It was likely the clutchest hit of Shuford’s Callaway career as it ended up driving in the winning run.

In that very same inning she scored the final run of the inning on a passed ball.

The game was full of dramatics as North Murray took the initial lead with two runs in the top of the first inning.

Shuford was having none of that and tied the game with a two-run double in the bottom of that very same inning.

The Cavaliers captured their first lead of the game in the bottom of the second when Madison Kemp got a clutch two-out single to drive in a run and make it 3-2.

The lead was short-lived as North Murray tied the game in the top of the third before taking a 5-3 lead after 3.5 innings played.

Despite being in a two-run hole and facing elimination, the Cavaliers showed their resolve. 

“We have been in situations like that all year and we always challenge the girls and say ‘how are you going to respond?’” King said. “The girls showed their toughness. All those tough situations during the season prepared us for these types of moments.”

Kaitlyn Williams got a big two-out double that drove in a run to cut the deficit to just one that brought life back to the Callaway dugout.

The Cavaliers had another massive two-out hit in the bottom of the fifth when Mikayla Blankenship hit a one-run double of her own.

The sophomore had one of her best career games in a massive moment.

“Mikayla Blakenship came in huge for us tonight,” King said. “I can’t so enough about how much progress she has made this season.”

She finished the game 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.

The game was tied 5-5 heading to the bottom of the sixth which proved to be the decisive half-inning in the game.

A double from Savannah Rice that sent a runner home lifted every single Callaway fan that made the trip up out of their seat. It gave the Cavaliers their first lead since the second inning and teed up Shuford’s incredible finish to the inning.

Rice, Kemp and Williams were all outstanding from the plate as well, each generated two hits for the offense.

Freshman Bella Cleveland got her first career playoff start in the circle and was rock solid, throwing four innings. Kinley Smith pitched the final three innings and was dominant, not allowing a single earned run and only three hits.

Callaway will rematch Providence Christian at 3 p.m. on Thursday in another elimination game with the winner advancing to play hosts Mt. Paran in the super regional championship. The Cavaliers lost a close one to Providence in the opening game, coming out on the wrong side of a 2-0 game, but with such tight margins in that game, the Cavaliers have new life heading into Thursday. 

“This is a super high, but now we have to level ourselves back out and come back with the same edge and mentality tomorrow,” King said. “We have to manage this excitement and make sure we stay focused going into tomorrow.”