CHARLESTON – It was dinnertime.
The hour of the day rendered it so, but that didn’t much matter. Dee Campbell decided, as she and her teammates like to say, that it was time to eat and no one was going to tell them otherwise.
As she bounded around the bases Wednesday evening after belting a walk-off home run, she began to feast. Figuratively, that is.
Left hand flat, chest high, palm up. Right hand clamped closed, raised above the left, making a circular spoon-feeding motion. One hand the plate, the other the utensil, the whole thing a pantomime of Charleston’s adopted dictum.
“(Teammate) Emily Price barked liked a dog one time in the dugout, so we called her big dog,” Campbell said, cracking a grin. “Macey (McElravy) then said ‘big dogs gotta eat.’ So that’s kind of our motto now.”
If big dogs do indeed need frequent feeding, consider Charleston softball the stocky, well-nourished Great Dane that no one dares take the food bowl from when suppertime arrives.
Wednesday, Paris nearly swiped it. Campbell’s home run, though, gave Charleston a 3-2 win over the Tigers in a meeting of one-loss teams who have spent the season “eating” at their own wish. Charleston delivered early knockout punches in four consecutive shortened wins, but won an 11-round bout this time.
“We really do have toughness,” Campbell said. “We don’t give up. We’re not a team to look over, ever. Even if you think you have us beat, you may not.”
Paris had good reason to feel it did have a win within reach until Campbell’s shot cleared the left-center field fence. The Tigers put at least one runner on base in all seven innings, had multiple runners reach in four of them and hit home runs in two others.
Though the score was tied entering the bottom of the seventh, Paris had threatened more often, allowed fewer hits and owned the play of the game to that point. Tigers starter Karley Moore induced swings and misses or high fly balls at key times and allowed six baserunners through six frames.
“She had a nice riseball that was really staying up in the zone,” Charleston coach Blain Mayhall said. “We really needed to lay off that pitch, make her work the count and not let her feel comfortable to throw that.”
Charleston did enough to stay even, though, and even hold a lead for a couple innings. Price skillfully wiggled out of a few jams herself and with the help of some timely defense. She supplied Charleston with its first run on an opposite-field homer in the second inning.
Price again created a scoring chance by drawing a two-out walk in the fourth inning. Ashlynn McPeak, as a courtesy runner, did the rest. She stole second and then scored from second on a wild pitch when Paris’ catcher could not locate the ball, giving Charleston a 2-1 lead.
“I came into the dugout and told Ashlynn that run was all her,” Mayhall said. “She came hard around the base and when she saw it was there, she went.”
“When she gets that call, she takes every opportunity to make herself do well.”
One inning later, Macey McElravy skied a ball into center that had all the makings of a two-run home run and a 4-1 lead. Instead, Paris center fielder Kaitlyn Mathews camped under it, and right at top of the fence, nabbed the ball to preserve a one-run deficit. Paris then tied the score 2-2 on Whitney Todd’s sixth-inning solo homer.
Paris drew two walks to start the seventh, mounting its greatest threat yet that it might spoil dinner.
Reagan McGahey, though, fielded a sharp grounder and alertly threw to third to nail the lead runner. Paris dialed up a double-steal that appeared to work, but Kendall Mathews was ruled to have come off the base at third and called out because Kennedy Fellers kept the tag on her. McGahey gobbled up a grounder in the hole and shortstop, planted her foot and delivered a strike to McElravy at first while falling away to get the final out by a hair.
It all set up the chance for Campbell to deliver. She sat on an inside pitch and drove a no-doubter out of Karch Field.
“Her hands seem a little bit quicker this year,” Mayhall said. “She got her pitch. That’s what I told her, just look for yours. She got what she wanted.”
Once she saw it, ripe for mashing, she knew exactly what to do: “Eat it up.”