Defending champ Eagles top Panthers 5-1 in softball tourney opener

SMYRNA — Julia Thuer saw the infield creeping in and thought she should aim for the area in between first and second base.

Two runners were in scoring position, the game was tied and Thuer was trying to get at least one in.

She plated both of them.

Thuer’s go-ahead two-RBI single sparked a four-run bottom of the sixth as Smyrna High defeated Polytech 5-1 in the first round of the DIAA softball state tournament on Thursday afternoon.

“I was just thinking right side, for sure,” Thuer said. “Anything to the right side I think we could at least get one run in a situation like that.”

Smyrna, the tournament’s second seed and defending state champions, advanced to play No. 10 seed St. Georges on Saturday at a time to be determined. Polytech, the 15th seed, ended the year with an 11-8 overall record.

It was the second year in a row Smyrna has hosted Polytech in the tournament’s first round.

Smyrna coach Nicki Shirey said she was expecting a similar contest to last year where Smyrna won 4-1. This was despite the fact the Eagles earned a 7-0 victory over Polytech during the regular season on April 18.

Shirey’s concern proved to be correct as Polytech pitcher Katie Burawski kept Smyrna scoreless for the first four innings.

“I knew Katie was going to bring it on the mound,” Shirey said. “When she’s on she’s one of the top pitchers in the state, she doesn’t get enough credit. I knew she was going to be on and it would be a battle. She did some great pitching today.”

Smyrna’s Payton Dixon matched that pitching effort in the circle as the game entered the bottom of the sixth 1-1.

Sara Miller started the rally with a walk and Abigail Mace pushed a sinking liner to right field to move Miller to third and Mace took the extra base on the throw. Soon Thuer found herself at-bat with a chance to put Smyrna in front.

Thuer knocked a hard grounder through the drawn-in infield to score both Miller and Mace. Olyvia Smith then singled to give Smyrna two base-runners again.

This time Laiken Zay broke the game open with a two-RBI double into the gap between left and centerfield.

For Zay, one of seven seniors on the Smyrna roster, the fact that the game was still tied in the sixth served as a wakeup call.

“If we lose this game then it’s our last game together,” Zay said. “I think myself and the other seniors knew we had to put it into full drive. We need to play how we played in the sixth inning for the rest of the tournament.”

Dixon then retired Polytech in order to seal it in the seventh.

Mace provided the first run for Smyrna in the bottom of the fifth when she scored from second on a two-out infield single by Smith.

Polytech then loaded the bases in the top of the sixth before Brianna Stevenson knocked a grounder up the middle to score the tying run. The Panthers almost took the lead on the play but Mace’s throw home from centerfield was in time to tag out the potential go-ahead run.

“That’s all part of tournament ball,” Shirey said. “You know you’re getting good competition and it’ll be back-and-forth no matter who you’re playing. Anything can happen and you can never let up until the last out.”

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