Sometimes the hardest thing to see is that which is right in front of you.
Clichés aside, that was certainly the case as a pair of old 3A-1 East foes, Salem and Cave City battled for a ticket to the finals of the 3A Region 3 Softball Tournament April 30 at Community First Bank Sports Complex in Harrison.
With the two starting pitchers having their way through a very efficient first six innings that saw a total of eight hits, five for Salem, three for Cave City, it was the Lady Greyhounds that broke open the defensive struggle in the top of the seventh, all by looking just a couple of feet in front of home plate.
Using a parade of bunts and nub hits, mixed with one huge triple, Salem batted around in the seventh inning, scoring all six runs of its 6-0 win over the Cavewomen in the frame.
Later in the evening, Salem (22-4) finished things off by jack-hammering Manila 17-1 to win its second straight regional crown.
Cave City (15-6) then bounced back by topping Corning 8-3 to take third place in the regional.
It was easy to see why Salem and Cave City made it to the regional semis; excellent pitching and sharp defense. And both were on display as the two sides hooked up for the second time this year. Salem won 4-1 in the regular-season meeting with Cave City, giving the Lady Hounds the 3A-1 East title, while the Cavewomen finished second in the conference race.
Salem fireballer Leslie Taylor was definitely on top of her game, racking up 14 Ks while giving up just four hits and one walk, en route to the win.
Courtney Lewis, Cave City's ace, was also in good form, keeping the Lady Greyhounds quiet through the first six innings of play. Lewis fanned four Lady Hounds while giving up eight hits.
With the game deadlocked in a scoreless tie, it seemed a sure bet that extra innings would be needed to determine a winner.
Then came the top of the seventh.
Jordan Nelson led off the frame for Salem by slapping a roller past the pitcher's mound, reaching on an errant throw to first base. Then Terra Kinder dropped down a bunt hit, moving Nelson to second as she touched first base.
Jamie James gave herself up with a sacrifice bunt that advanced the runners to second and third, giving Jody McCullough a chance to hit with runners in scoring position.
McCullough came through by dropping a soft shot right behind second base, scoring Nelson for the first run of the afternoon.
But the Lady Greyhounds were not finished yet.
Kaitlyn Aldridge laid down a nifty bunt down the third-base line, juicing the sacks for Salem with one out.
Enter Laci Long.
After Salem had managed to load the bases with a group of hits that largely stayed in the infield in the seventh, Long shook things up by slamming a triple down the third base line that unloaded the sacks, driving in three runs to boost the Lady Hounds' lead to 4-0.
Next up, Lairen Hall went right back to Salem's plan of attack earlier in the frame, reaching base on a bunt hit.
Taylor then finished things off by recording her third hit of the day, a ball into short right that plated Long and Hall to extend Salem's lead to 6-0. After being held to just five hits and no runs over the course of the first six innings, the Lady Hounds sent 10 batters to the dish in the seventh, posting six runs on six hits.
With a 6-0 lead in her back pocket, Taylor took the hill in the bottom of the seventh and notched three strikeouts, while giving up a base hit to Jordan Witt, to end the game.
Both teams had a couple of shots at scoring runs earlier in the game, as the second inning ended with Kinder left on third for Salem, while Cave City's Miranda Sallas, after slamming a double, was left standing at third as the third inning drew to a close.
Courtney Lewis and Cheyenne Childers hit safely for Cave City.
In Cave City's third-place win over Corning, Courtney Lewis sat down five Lady Bobcats via strikeouts, while issuing just one walk.
Witt had two hits and drove in three runs for the Cavewomen, while Deana Hunter and Amie Willmuth added a pair of hits each.
The Cavewomen's drive to a state title came to an end in the first round of the 3A State Tournament May 4 at Sherwood Sportsplex with a tight 2-1 loss to the Harding Academy Lady Wildcats.
With the game deadlocked at 1-all in the bottom of the sixth, Harding Academy took advantage of a Cave City error to plate the go-ahead run.