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Lady Pioneers fall to Franklin North
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Jeffery Simmons photo Aleya Esparza, seen in a previous game, had two hits and two RBIs in Tuesday's 4-3 loss in extra innings to Franklin North. The loss dropped Warren County Middle School into the second seed in next week's CTC tournament.

Any other field and Mea Starkey makes the catch. But on a short porch in Franklin North, Ashtyn Danley measured it out to perfection to give Franklin North a regular-season championship.

Danley’s solo shot in extra innings Tuesday gave the Lady Gators a 4-3 victory over the Warren County Middle School softball team in what was a de facto title game between the pair of one-loss CTC rivals.

“Mea tracked the ball perfectly, ran through the temporary fence and the ball tipped off her glove as she went over the fence and hit the ground,” said WCMS coach Joe Damon. “If that ball is on our field, at 220 feet instead of the 175 feet there, Mea catches it 10 out of 10 times.

“You always hear there are players who will run through a wall for you. We actually have it. We have a team full of them, Mea is just the latest example.”

Starkey nearly made a web gem for the ages for the Lady Pioneers, who needed the victory to claim the regular season title and the top seed in next week’s CTC tournament. Instead, Danley’s deep shot pushed the Lady Gators over in a game Damon won’t soon forget.

“It was the best middle school game I’ve ever seen. They have a good team and good pitcher (Danley),” said Damon. “It was a game of inches and it just didn’t go our way. We definitely didn’t give them the game. They gave 100 percent and I’m very proud of the way our girls played.”

The loss snapped an 11-game winning streak for Warren County, dropping the team to 13-2 overall this season. It was a bitter defeat for the Lady Pioneers, who led 3-2 going into the fifth inning before the Lady Gators rallied to win.

Warren County jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second, getting a two-run double from Aleya Esparza to plate Marli McBride and Halo Armstrong. Esparza was able to score late in the inning when Bella Cantrell swiped second and the throw sailed into centerfield.

Danley, a seventh-grader already committed to Florida State University, settled down after allowing the Lady Pioneers to jump into the lead. She allowed just one hit over the last four innings – a single from Esparza – as Warren County struggled to score off the dominant lefty.

The Lady Gators struck back in the third, getting back-to-back RBI doubles off Madison Hollis to draw within one at 3-2.

Warren County held the advantage into the fifth, where it got within one out of claiming the title. With two on and two outs, Franklin North got a gift as a Lady Pioneer error brought in the tying run.

Hollis was able to battle out of a bases-loaded jam to prolong the game, only to see Danley take over.

Danley struck out the side in the sixth, part of a nine-strikeout outing, before providing the heroics with her bat.

Just a day after shutting out the Lady Gators, Hollis took her first loss, giving up four runs on eight hits while striking out five. Esparza spearheaded the Lady Pioneer offense, with her two hits and two RBIs providing most of the damage. Armstrong and Shelby Roberts were the only other Lady Pioneers to get a hit.

Damon expects to see Franklin North again, provided his team can take care of business in the early rounds on next week’s CTC tournament.
“We will see North again next week and there’s no doubt it’ll be a great game,” said Damon.

Details of the CTC tournament schedule can be found in Sunday’s Standard.