MURPHYSBORO — As season debuts go, it would be hard to come up with one any better than the Murphysboro softball team authored on Tuesday.
Shelby Harrison tossed a one-hit shutout, Shelby Cook belted a three-run homer and the Red Devils collected 11 hits in a 12-0, 4 ½-inning rout of Pinckneyville in cross-SIRR action.
“We came out pretty strong today,” Harrison said. “We’ve been working really hard on hitting. We have a lineup full of hitters.”
And in Harrison, Murphysboro has a senior pitcher who can shut down a lineup full of hitters. While this version of the Panthers (1-1) won’t be whole for a few weeks, it’s still a solid lineup that opened the season Monday with a 14-5 pasting of Benton.
Leadoff batter Ava Adcock clocked a double to the left field fence on the game’s fourth pitch from Harrison. Pinckneyville seemed a good bet to at least cash her in to open the day with a lead.
Harrison’s script read a bit differently than the Panthers’. She got the next two hitters to sucker for pitches out of the strike zone for whiffs, then slipped a called third strike by the next batter.
Momentum stayed in Murphysboro’s dugout for the game’s remainder.
“That got us going,” said coach Kim Brown. “The girls may have had some nerves at the start, but they didn’t last long.”
Neither did the game’s competitive phase. Shelby Cook slapped a first-pitch single in Murphysboro’s half of the inning to begin a four-run outburst that included RBI groundouts from Karlye Happold and Ellie Doerr, a run-scoring single from Sarah Cook and a throwing error that chased in the final run.
While Harrison mowed down nine straight hitters after Adcock’s double, the Red Devils blew it open with six more runs in the third. Harrison helped her cause by pulling a two-run double just inside third and Shelby Cook capped the explosion by taking a high, outside pitch the other way for a 10-0 lead.
Four of the runs in that inning were unearned, thanks to a dropped fly ball.
“We pitched better than the score indicated,” said Pinckneyville coach Alan Engelhardt. “The first four runs, they earned. After that, we dropped some fly balls and pop-ups. We didn’t have our whole team today, but Murphysboro’s a veteran team. That’s a good team. We don’t need to get down.”
The Panthers played without junior shortstop Taylor Kurtz, who isn’t available on Tuesdays and Thursdays because she’s going to nursing school. Two other starters were out with injuries, but they might not have made a difference the way Harrison pitched.
Michele Shelton plopped the cherry on top of the Red Devils’ banana split day with a pinch-hit two-run double in the fourth. Sarah Cook added three hits and three runs, while Mallorie Gill bagged a pair of hits.
The 81-minute game was a reminder of why Murphysboro had great expectations going into 2020. However, it never got to hit the field to fulfill them. COVID-19 benched the Red Devils – and every other team – for the spring.
Tuesday was their first game since a Class 3A regional semifinal loss at Carbondale in 2019. For Harrison, Brown and the team, it served as a grand return to the field.
“Just like riding a bike,” Brown said. “These girls haven’t forgotten how to play.”