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Parker catch spearheads Lady Indians’ dominant defense in regional championship

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By Sean Arnold

For Chiefland to defend its three-time reign as regional champion, it knew it had to lean on something that’s always been a foundation and source of pride in helping the team line its fingers with bling.

With runs coming at a premium against Trenton ace Darian Ingram, and the speedy Lady Tigers feeding off a slap-and-dash, bunt-and-run style from the left side of the plate, putting excessive pressure on opposing infielders, the Lady Indians needed to lead with their defense.

The bottom of the fourth was a microcosm for how successful the three-time state champions were in that effort, with one of multiple pickoffs by catcher Emily Hallman and a game-defining grab in center field by Lauren “LP” Parker.

That latter catch, coming with two outs and runners on second and third, erased what otherwise would’ve been at least a 2-0 lead by Trenton. Parker leaped to haul in the catch, nearly crashing into the fence, after making a full sprint to track down the ball.

“Before we went into the game, Sam (left fielder Samantha Rolfe) and I talked about how nothing was going to drop,” Parker said. “We were sacrificing the body for whatever we needed.

“I guess my adrenaline took over,” Parker added. “Had I missed it, it would have been a totally different game.”

Chiefland scored its first run immediately following the catch, and went on to collect a 3-0 win.

Sophomore pitcher Kensley Durrance, who said her rise ball didn’t have its intended break on the pitch before Parker’s catch, was bolstered by her team’s defense as she grew stronger in the waning innings.

“We’ve always been a very good defensive team, and that’s what we always remind our pitcher – just to pitch with whatever she’s got, because we’ll have her back,” said Rolfe, who had an impressive grab of her own at the fence in the team’s previous win at Trenton.

“(Durrance) definitely pitched a phenomenal game, I reassured her a couple times afterward,” Parker said. “She really stepped up that night. I think she’s gotten a lot better throughout this season.”

Chiefland players and coaches said the swing in momentum was palpable after the catch and ensuing run by senior Aleaha Rhoomes, who scored on a Hallman base hit.

“It just seemed like whenever we got our first run, and the catch, it looked like (Trenton) gave up, and that gave us more motivation to push ourselves,” Parker said.

“My heart sank a little (when I first saw the hit to Parker),” senior second baseman Sydney Parks said. “I was hoping – I felt some magic would happen, and it did. A part of me knew. I knew she wanted just as bad as any one of us. And she’d do everything she could.

“The first three times we played them, we obviously didn’t hit too well. I knew if we were going to do it, it was going to be our defense.”

In addition to Parker’s play, the Lady Indians were led on defense by Hallman and third baseman Erika Gilliam, who bore a disproportionate amount of the burden for limiting Trenton’s offense. Coach Wayne Weatherford went as far as to call his junior third baseman an MVP of the game for her play in the box.

“I told my team defense is going to win it,” Gilliam said. “Coach told me, ‘You need to be ready because we’re pitching those (Trenton) lefties outside. All the fast people are probably going to be hitting to you.’

“I said, ‘Coach, I promise you I’ll be the hardest working player on the field then.’”

After the game, senior shortstop Kiya London, who was intentionally walked twice and scored one of the team’s runs, said the margin for error was so thin that the team had to make up for any miscues in the field with some other exceptional play.

“That was mainly what we were focusing on because we lost on errors the last time,” London said. “You make an error and they’re going to score. So that was the plan coming in – if we mess up on defense, we’ve got to make it up somewhere else.”

With her pickoff throws from behind the dish, Hallman made the Tigers pay for any moments of carelessness on the base paths, further limiting Trenton’s chances even when they placed runners in scoring position. She picked off her second runner of the game shortly before Parker’s catch.

Afterwards, Hallman summed up the key to the championship win: teammates trusting in one another.

“Something I told the girls, save yourself for when it counts – this is when it counts,” said Hallman, who had a pair of hits, a run and an RBI. “Go all out, dive for those balls. When you’re afraid that you’re going to get injured, that’s when you get injured.

“(We were a) different team. We have a lot of faith in each other.”