By JOEL COLEMAN
The Starkville Academy softball team piled up hit after hit at home against Hillcrest Christian on Tuesday.
Unfortunately for the Lady Volunteers, the clutch knocks they needed never came.
SA tallied 10 total hits in the game, but Hillcrest starting pitcher Abby Busby was able to weave in and out of danger all day long as the Lady Cougars topped the Lady Vols 4-1.
"We got some runners on base, but if you can't get them across the plate, there's not a whole lot to be said for that," said Starkville Academy head coach Kayla Mosley.
The fact that the Lady Vols were unable to mount any more offense than they did was a credit to Busby, a 7th grader who was actually pitching hurt.
"She's got a little back problem, but she worked through it," said Hillcrest head coach Danny Jones. "She's a tough kid. She's really young, but she's going to be something to contend with in the future."
Busby's performance against the Lady Vols certainly displayed plenty of promise for the years ahead.
After Hillcrest staked Busby to an early 2-0 lead with a pair of first-inning runs, Busby went to work, unfazed by the Lady Vols' numerous comeback attempts.
Starkville Academy stranded at least one runner on base in every inning of the contest, save for the second.
SA left eight total runners on base.
Mosley said her club's inability to cash in those runners had nothing to do with the pressure of falling behind early, attributing it instead to additional team-wide struggles for the Lady Vols, who have now lost four games in a row.
"(The team) doesn't really react negatively to (falling behind)," said Mosley. "We've had one-run games with pressure on us until the end, so I don't think it's the pressure that got to us. I just think we're kind of in a funk right now."
Starkville Academy's best opportunity to bust loose from its doldrums came in the bottom of the fourth.
Still trailing 2-0, Julianne Jackson began an SA rally with her one-out single to left. Lauren Ware followed with a single of her own to put runners on first and second.
After Adrienne Futral was struck out by Busby, Megan Aucoin singled to load the bases for the Lady Vols with two outs.
While Emily Gregory kept things going with a RBI single one batter later that cut SA's deficit to 2-1, Busby was able to wiggle out of trouble by striking out April Burney.
In the top of the sixth, Hillcrest was able to add a pair of insurance runs to cap the scoring and all but end SA's chances.
"We jumped out to a fast start, then kind of laid back it seemed," said Jones. "Then we came back at the end and scored a few more.
"It wasn't how I'd like to win, but we did what it took."
The win pushed Jones' Lady Cougars to a 7-2 overall record, 3-2 in conference play.
The SA loss dropped the Lady Vols to 11-12 overall and 4-5 in conference action.
Mosley hopes that both of those marks will soon improve however, starting with SA's next game – a Tuesday, August 30th, road matchup at East Rankin.
The Lady Vols topped East Rankin 3-2 in extra innings last Thursday in Starkville and Mosley is hopeful SA can duplicate that performance to snap itself out of its current skid.
"I know (the team) is just as upset as I am," said Mosley. "We've got to start winning some conference games. We've got a week until our next game and I think we're all ready to get back to the basics and focus on some things that we're not doing real well.
"Hopefully this week will give us some time to do that and we'll come back out on fire next Tuesday."