By Steve Williams

Carter came close to spoiling the Gibbs players’ first opportunity to present their head coach with her 1,000th career victory last week.

But the Lady Eagles pulled out a 5-4 district win when senior Emma Keck drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning and her sophomore sister Lacey Keck shut down the bottom of Carter’s batting order in the ninth.

The win upped Gibbs’ season record to 10-0, while Carter slipped to 12-3.

“It really is special for us to be a part of something so big,” said Emma. “I mean I feel like we have a really good team and this is special for Coach Mitchell, but it’s also special that we get to celebrate it with her.”

Gibbs leadoff batter Maliyah Smith beat out a bunt to open the ninth inning. Dakota Large’s sacrifice bunt moved her to second. Power hitter Jordann Reagan was intentionally walked and replaced by pinch runner Rheanne Tulloch.

Freshman Malaney Etherton struck out Lacey Keck for the second out, but Emma Keck hit the ball into shallow centerfield and Smith slid in safely ahead of the throw to the plate to give the Lady Eagles the lead.

Lacey Keck fanned Carter’s first two batters in the bottom of the ninth. Anna Long was hit by a pitch and replaced by pinch runner McKinley Grubb. But Jade Bell fielded Jenna Wilson’s grounder to third and threw to Emma Keck at second for the game-ending out.

“I just thought they made one more play than we did,” said Carter Coach Ryan Burkhart. “That was a great high school softball game. That (Gibbs) is a really good high school team over there.

“But our girls fought from the first inning on. They got down 2-0 and just fought their way back and fought and battled like crazy. I told the girls after the game that just shows us we can compete with anybody when we’ve got our ‘A’ game on. It was a great team effort and I’m very proud of our girls.”

Gibbs got off to a great start as Reagan belted a two-run homer to left center in the first inning.

The Lady Hornets responded with a run in the first and second innings to tie the game.

Kayla Rucker’s two-out hit in the first almost knocked off first baseman Savannah Melo’s glove. The ball was bobbled in right field, allowing Rucker to advance to second. She scored on clean-up hitter Bailey Stout’s single.

Two Gibbs errors put runners on first and second for Carter in the second inning. Ivey Jones scored an unearned run on Wilson’s infield single to tie the game.

Another two-out rally put the Lady Hornets ahead 3-2 in the fourth. Loren Chamberlain walked and stole second. She then scored on Anna Long’s ground ball single up the middle.

After failing to score for five straight innings, Gibbs had to tally in the top of the seventh or taste defeat. Melo slapped a single up the middle to ignite a rally.

A great defensive play by Carter third baseman Gracie Miller on a catch of foul ball as she collided into the brick wall between third and home produced the first out. But Smith singled to advance Melo to third and then stole second base.

Large’s sacrifice bunt plated Melo with the tying run and Lacey Keck’s hit to right center scored Smith as Gibbs went ahead 4-3.

Carter tied the game in the bottom of the seventh when Chamberlain singled and was replaced by pinch runner Marah Yeo. With two outs and a 3-2 count, Etherton dropped a single between the shortstop and left fielder to bring in Yeo and knot the score at 4-4.

Both teams threatened in the eighth but failed to score. The Lady Eagles had runners on second and third with two outs, but pinch-hitter Shelby Williams flew out to deep left field.

On one key defensive play in the bottom of the eighth, Gibbs’ McKenzie Morton used her speed to race in from left field and tag out Rucker before she could slide into third base to complete a double play.

“I feel like the key to the win was just mustering out some grit,” said Emma Keck. “The other day we talked about grit and you just got to keep pushing on through. We never give up.

“It was a great game.”

Carter’s Coach Burkhart said he didn’t tell his players about the Lady Eagles seeking win No. 1,000 for Mitchell.

“I didn’t want them to know,” he said. “It didn’t really change our approach at all. We were fired up; it’s a rivalry game and we were ready to play. It was a tough one to lose.

“After the end of the game, I told them. I think some of them might have known already; somebody else may have told them. They may have seen it on social media or something.”

Burkhart was asked if there was any reaction from his players after he told them.

“No, they would have liked to have kept her on 999; that’s it,” said Burkhart, laughing with that thought in mind.

Circle April 25 on the calendar. That’s when Carter will travel to Gibbs for their next meeting.