Central at Live Oak softball Morgan Lavergne Hailey Hughes

Central High shortstop Morgan Lavergne tags out Live Oak's Hailey Hughes.

WATSON – For 6 ½ innings, it felt like Live Oak’s game against Central District 4-5A contest was emblematic of their uneven start to the season. The Lady Eagles fought hard, but tough luck and mistakes proved to be their undoing.

Trailing by four runs headed into the bottom of the seventh, Live Oak used every out at its disposal to score four runs to send the game into extra innings and then rallied in the bottom of the eighth for a 17-16 victory over Central.

“(We told ourselves) we’re still in this,” Live Oak left fielder Emma Hunt said. “We can come back. We’re not about to lose, it’s nothing we haven’t done before.”

During the course of the game Live Oak (6-6, 1-1) walked or hit eight batters that led to seven runs. They also allowed six runs on six hits two outs.

“It’s one of those ‘need it’ wins,” Live Oak coach Michelle Morris said. “It’s one of those character-building wins. You can be the comeback kids, but it doesn’t come easy. You have to keep battling back…the last couple of weeks have really prepared us for this.

Central at Live Oak softball Brett Leiva

Live Oak's Brett Leiva connects on a first-inning home run.

“It’s not new,” Morris said. “At some point you’re going to get knocked down and you have to pick yourself back up by the bootstraps. It felt like we did that. We have been working on this for a couple of weeks to try and figure ourselves out.”

Central took a 16-14 lead with two runs in the top of the eighth to take a 16-14 lead and had seemingly taken all the air out of Live Oak’s bubble after the hosts had rallied to tie the game an inning earlier.

However, the Lady Eagles answered in their half of the eighth when Emma Hunt lead off with an infield single for her fifth hit of the game.

Central opted to intentionally walk catcher Brett Leiva for the fifth time after the West Florida signee homered in the first inning for a 3-2 lead. Emalea Dimaio followed with a single and an error tied the game at 16-16, putting the winning run 90 feet away with no outs.

Live Oak encountered its share of misfortune when Elaina Kreamer had seemingly won the game with a line drive hit up the middle, but the runner at first was called out for interference and the run disallowed. Following a strikeout, ninth-place hitter Hailey Hughes drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the winning run.

Central-LOHS-sb-Shaun Leiva.JPG

Live Oak shortstop Shaun Leiva (24) makes a leaping stop off a ball that caromed off third base.

“We’ve had a couple of losses here and there,” Hunt said. “But this was our turning point. I feel like we’re just going to go up from here.”

Hunt’s five hits were crucial to Live Oak’s comeback in more ways than one. After Leiva’s homer and Central’s reluctance to pitch to her for the remainder of the game, including an intentional walk with the bases loaded in the seventh, Hunt was able to set table for the middle of the order and also scored three runs on walks.

“She’s the difference in the game,” Morris said of Hunt.

Central’s two-hole hitter, Savannah Hupp, had a five-hit night and reached safely in all six of her at-bats. Hupp came around to score three times and brought in a run in what appeared to be the pivotal fourth inning.

The Lady Wildcats appeared to be in command with a six-run lead after the fourth inning, stringing together seven straight two-out hits and walks for six runs and a 12-6 lead.

“Usually when you put up 16 runs, you’re going to win a ball game,” Central coach Michelle Efferson said. “I felt like they did a great job of hitting. You just saw a typical 4-5A district matchup. It’s the SEC of high school softball, it’s a dogfight every single night, whether we’re rebuilding or have a state championship caliber team. It is what it is…I just think it was a great battle.”