By NICK BROCKMAN
For HD Media
NITRO - Nitro's offense exploded early to lead the Wildcats softball team to victory in the opening contest of the Class AA Region 4 championship series on Monday night.
Nitro tallied 10 runs in the first two innings en route to a 13-4 five-inning win against visiting Lincoln County to take Game 1 in the best-of-three series.
"I think it's good to get out early, just don't give them any confidence going in," Wildcats coach Mike Taylor said. "That was big. We got out and played well early, kind of went to sleep, then woke up late."
The Wildcats (27-8) held a 10-0 lead through three innings as starting pitcher Bella Savilla retired the first nine Panthers hitters consecutively. Despite the large deficit, Lincoln County's offense persisted and led off the fourth with back-to-back singles.
The hits sparked a four-run inning, as the Panthers (20-16) clawed back into the contest.
"They showed a little bit of desire throughout and played with a little bit of heart," Panthers coach Tommy Barrett said.
Savilla returned to form after a rocky fourth inning to retire Lincoln County in order in the fifth.
"They started timing me," Savilla said of the Panthers' fourth-inning outburst. "They knew my speed, they backed up, they scooted in they were on it. I just had to keep going or they were going to start crushing me. I just needed my defense."
In the bottom half of the fifth, Nitro first baseman Lena Elkins ended the game with a three-run home run to center field, as the Wildcats won the run-rule shortened game.
"It felt amazing, just the rush and being here in regionals and helping out the team everything," Elkins said.
Elkins' blast capped a solid offensive effort for the Wildcats. Though Nitro briefly allowed Lincoln County back into the game, the Wildcats produced a balanced offensive effort, with seven different players recording a hit.
"We were all hitting strong," Savilla said. "I think we got a little too confident being up 10-0, and then we got our heads on straight when they scored four runs."
After playing so many tight games lately, Taylor said the Wildcats looked unprepared to handle a large lead.
"We're so unaccustomed to being up [big], because we've played so many close ballgames," Taylor said. "All our games through the sectionals have been one- and two-run games. That's just kind of where our heads been. We get up and I felt like we went flat. Our defense just kind of got back on their heels, because they hadn't put the ball in play."
Taylor said he expects more of the same tenacious play from the Panthers as the series moves to Lincoln County.
"They're going to battle, and they'll do the same tomorrow," he said. "They won't give up. They'll come, and they'll give us everything they got, I'm sure."
Nitro was looking to take the series and advance to the state tournament when the teams resumed the series on Tuesday at Lincoln County.