HASKELL — The Harmony Grove Lady Cardinals battled through a rare close contest Monday. With a championship looming, the Lady Cards defeated the Perryville Lady Mustangs 2-1 to move their winning streak to 12 straight and captured the squad’s second straight 5-3A District title.
“I am most proud of how we fought through a close game since we hadn’t played one in a while, so it was nice to see how we were going to do,” Head Coach Sammi Massey said. “It took both pitchers today and both did a great job. We got timely hits where we needed them and played defense when we had to.”
Pitchers Kristen Dempsey and LJ Helmich combined to allow 0 earned runs on three hits and struck out seven. The two fireballers have not been touched for an earned run in 56 straight innings combined.
“Kristen and LJ did all they could to win today,” Massey said. “They keep us in the ballgame and we do the rest. I thought they both did a whale of a job.
The game was a pitchers’ duel for the first 2.5 innings. It wasn’t until the bottom of the third that Harmony Grove finally got the scoring started.
After a leadoff fly out by Joee Richey in the 9-hole, Holly Drombetta reached on a single and later scored, coming around on a wild pitch, ground out and finally reaching the dish on an RBI double from Helmich. Dempsey followed with a single, allowing Robyn Baxley to drive in Helmich from third on an RBI single the next at-bat to give the Lady Cardinals the 2-0 lead after three.
Perryville answered with a single digit in the fourth, taking advantage of three errors. Despite the trio of miscues at third base, the Lady Mustangs mustered just one run to pull within one of Harmony Grove.
What had been an exciting two half innings quickly went back to a scoreless affair with both pitchers shutting their opponents down. Helmich entered the circle in the fifth, relieving Dempsey after four strong innings of work.
Dempsey pitched out of some early jams, escaping a two-on, one-out situation in the second and a two-on, no-out situation in the third.
Helmich, however, went six-up and six-down in her first two innings of work before allowing a single in the seventh inning just before getting the final three outs to seal the win for Harmony Grove.
Harmony Grove has won nine of the last 14 district titles, all while under the guidance of Massey. Harmony Grove switched over to fastpitch in 2001.
Drombetta led the Lady Cardinals at the plate with a 2 for 3 showing. Otts, Helmich, Dempsey and Baxley all collected a hit in the win.
“We started off stringing some little hits together,” Massey said. “If we could do a little more of that I would feel more comfortable. The bottom of the lineup has to pull through a little bit and do more. The top has been pretty solid all year long.”
The win gives the Lady Cardinals the No. 1 seed in the Region 2 Regional Tournament which begins on Friday. Harmony Grove is set to battle Rose Bud with first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m. in Haskell.
“I think if we do what we are supposed to do we are going to be fine,” Massey said. “Then it gets a lot tougher from there because we’ve got Mayflower or Bald Knob and the finals will be whoever comes out of the top. It is going to be tough. This is the toughest region in the state, in my opinion.”
Harmony Grove took last year’s Regional Tournament and have won seven since 2001.