Hembree helps Colonels rout Patriots

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There are an astronomical number of lineup combinations the Cass softball team could use over the course of the season. At the moment, the Colonels are seemingly attempting to run out a different lineup every single game.

The combination Cass used Thursday night certainly worked out well, as every starter scored or drove in a run in a 14-2, four-inning home victory over Paulding County.

"That's awesome," Cass head coach Taylor Weeks said of the total team effort. "I think that speaks to our team that we have girls in the dugout who can play. They can play, and they came out here and made plays when they were supposed to make plays. They stepped up today. They got a chance, and they made the most out of it."

In a battle of programs that entered Thursday 1-4 in Region 7-AAAAA, the visiting Patriots struck first. A leadoff walk to open the game came back to haunt Cass pitcher Kylee Hembree when an RBI groundout opened the scoring.

Hembree bounced back in a big way, though. The freshman helped her own cause in the first and third innings, finishing the game 2-for-3 with four RBI. She also settled in pitching-wise, allowing three hits and a walk with two strikeouts during a complete game.

Hembree's first two-RBI hit gave the Colonels the lead for good in the bottom of the first.

Eryn Lee and Kimberly Allen drew consecutive free passes to begin the frame. Rachael Lee doubled to the fence to score one run. It was her first at bat since the previous Thursday when she took a liner off the lower leg against Woodland.

"Rachael is always up, she's always keeping the team up," Weeks said of Lee's impact. "It makes a huge difference when she's in the game."

Hembree followed Lee's two-bagger with one of her own for a 3-1 lead, but Cass was far from finished in the inning.

An error later in the frame allowed courtesy runner Keturah Redding to score, and another misplayed ball by Paulding County resulted in Haley Smith and Maggie Collum crossing the plate.

A single and a fielder's choice loaded the bases for Allen. She was hit by pitch to force home Hailie Owens, who finished her stellar day 2-for-3 with two runs scored and four RBI.

Despite the final scoreline, the Patriots had a real chance to get back in the game in the top of the third. After cutting the Colonels' lead to 7-2, Paulding County had the bases loaded and two outs.

Hembree, though, came through with a strikeout to end the threat.

"She stepped up, and she threw strikes," Weeks said. "We knew that would be a big out, we knew we needed to get out of that inning and we did that."

Cass took the momentum and ran with it, putting up another seven-spot in the third inning.

Owens and Saydee Najarro, who wound up 2-for-2, hit consecutive singles to begin the frame. Owens eventually scored on a wild pitch, while Najarro came home on Hembree's bases-loaded double. Eryn Lee also crossed on the hit, while Rachael Lee, who finished 1-for-2 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI, reached third.

Smith drove in the latter Lee with a fielder's choice. Owens brought in Smith and Brylie Sanford on a single, and Collum scored thanks to an error on the play.

The 12-run margin allowed the Colonels to end proceedings early after Hembree escaped a jam in the top of the fourth with a popup to herself.

"I feel like we gained momentum in the first inning, and we kept it throughout the whole game," Weeks said. "That's something we've been talking to the girls about, and I feel like tonight we really put that into play."

Even with the success of Thursday's lineup, it's likely — almost certain, in fact — that Cass will roll out a different Friday night against Cartersville in the Bartow County Championships.

"Part of it is injuries, but we're trying to see people, we're trying to give people a chance and see the best nine to go with," Weeks said of the changes.

The only constant has been change, but on nights like Thursday, it all seems worth it. Almost every single player on the roster would have felt as though they made a meaningful contribution. For a team that — on this night — started six freshmen, three sophomores and a senior, it goes a long way towards building confidence and building morale.

Weeks believes the win gives her team a push heading into two days of bragging rights.

"It's huge," Weeks said. "We gained momentum today, and I just hope we keep that rolling into this weekend."