By JOEL COLEMAN
HOUSTON – It wasn't Cumberland, but for East Webster's Swayze Hollenhead, it sure felt a lot like home.
Playing in Houston due to the storm damage on the East Webster campus, Hollenhead was the winning pitcher as the Wolverines shut down Eupora 3-0 in the opening game of first-round, Class 2A softball playoff action Friday night.
The senior hurler notched a complete game in the contest, allowing just four hits and striking out five in her seven innings of work to give Region 3 runner-up East Webster (15-6) a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
"We needed to win this game," said Hollenhead. "In my head, I was telling myself that I have to hit my spots. I truthfully didn't want anyone to hit the ball. I just wanted them to walk back and forth to and from the dugout.
"I guess because of everything that's happened to East Webster, I was thinking in my head I have to do good for everybody and I know the whole team was thinking about that too."
It didn't take Hollenhead and her teammates long to get the Wolverines faithful on their feet.
After Eupora (15-6), the Region 4 champions, left a runner stranded at third in the top of the first, East Webster immediately jumped ahead 2-0 in the home half against Eagles starting pitcher Amber Dean.
The rally started courtesy of Autumn Frost's leadoff bloop to right that the Eupora defense couldn't haul in and continued one batter later when Caylee McClellan reached on an error and stole second.
With runners at second and third, Hollenhead lifted a sacrifice fly to center that scored Frost and also brought home McClellan on a throwing error.
"We put the pressure on (Eupora) and they started making mistakes," said East Webster head coach Meleah Brown of the early offense.
Though they went on to earn an insurance run in the fifth, the Wolverines two first-inning runs were plenty for Hollenhead. From the second inning on, the Mississippi State signee only allowed three Eupora baserunners.
"For them to get two runs early, that's big for any team," said Eupora head coach Trae Embry. "But we've been behind 2-0 it seems all year. We've had a lot of games where we've gotten behind and came back. But you can't get behind when (Hollenhead) is on the mound. When she's on the mound, it's another story."
Eupora's best chance to get to Hollenhead came just prior to East Webster's two-run first inning.
In the top of the first, Haileigh Hodges led off the game with a single for the Eagles. A batter later, Lexie Boykin laid down a bunt that was fielded and thrown away by Hollenhead.
Luckily for the Wolverines, Brown was anticipating a bunt and prior to the play had instructed right fielder Montana Spencer to be ready in case of an overthrow to first.
"I had just told (Spencer), if they bunt it, you have to back that throw up," said Brown. "She was there for it."
After hauling in the wild throw, Spencer then threw out an aggressive Hodges trying to get to third base.
"I about messed us up," said Hollenhead. "As soon as I threw that ball to first, I said 'oh no, this won't be good,' but (Spencer) was right there."
Hollenhead then recorded a strikeout and a ground out to escape the frame and put the Wolverines on the path to victory.
Though she suffered the loss, Dean also put forth a solid performance on the mound to keep Eupora in the game.
Going the distance, Dean allowed East Webster's three runs while allowing just four hits and striking out two, yet she was haunted by a defense that let her down at times.
"We've got to come back (today) and make those plays," said Embry.
The series continues with the second game at noon today in Eupora. If the Eagles win that contest, a decisive third game will also be played today.
For East Webster, the Wolverines get two chances to eliminate their arch rivals and move on to the next round.
Whoever advances will face either Mantachie or New Site in the second round of the playoffs beginning May 5.
Brown likes her team's chances today after what transpired on Friday in Houston.
"I told the girls before (Friday's) game that we had to win," said Brown. "I told them it was the most important game of their lives right now and if we could win, it would put (Eupora's) back against the wall.
"I told them to win the first game and then go to (Eupora) and win and we don't have to worry about a third game. That's what I want to do."
Though he knows it won't be easy, Embry believes his club has what it takes to bounce back from Friday's loss.
"We're not going to shut the program down," said Embry. "We're going to be there (today) and we're going to hopefully make those plays. We'll be back."