By MATTHEW CRESS
NEW ALBANY — When it started, New Albany third baseman Whitney Atkins was in a bit of a slump. When it was over, it was nearly a hitting streak.
Atkins had doubles in each of her first two at-bats and finished with four RBIs to lead the Bulldogs past Silver Creek 6-4 in the finals of New Albany's annual Jacque Hunter Invitational on Saturday.
The Bulldogs advanced to the title game with an 8-1 win over Trinity Lutheran earlier in the day and moved to 7-0 on the season.
"Whitney has been struggling a bit, but we're glad to see she came out of her slump," said New Albany coach Steve Belden. "She's worked hard to get out of it."
New Albany collected nine hits against Silver Creek starter Mackenzie Bush and set the tone early with two runs in its first time up.
After leadoff hitter Jena Fath reached on a Dragon error, Atkins gave a preview of what was to come by belting a 1-2 pitch from Bush nearly to the fench in left-center. With runners on second and third with none out, the Bulldogs took advantage with an RBI single by Kennedy Wynn and a grounder from Hannah Morton that scored Atkins from third for a 2-0 lead after one inning.
Still, Silver Creek wasn't ready to back down.
The Dragons (3-4), who posted an 8-0 win over Class A power Lanesville in the semifinals, came right back to tie things up in the top of the second. Shayla Cravens and Bush each drew walks to start the rally, then a bunt single by Hannah Mattingly loaded the bases with no outs.
Morton — the New Albany starter — nearly wiggled out of the jam with consecutive strikeouts and could have come out unscathed had her defense caught what appeared to be a routine fly ball down the first-base line off the bat of Kami Pennington, but the ball fell between three Bulldogs to allow two runs to score.
"Mentally, we didn't play a great game today," Belden said. "Physically, we played a good game, but this was the first bad game we've played mentally. Maybe its because it was our fifth game in four days. Luckily, we were able to overcome some of those mental mistakes."
Atkins didn't wait long to strike again, delivering a double in the second inning that nearly left the park ended up near the fence in centerfield. That scored Hannah Veit and Fath, who had back-to-back singles with two out.
Two innings later, the sequence repeated itself.
Again with two out, Veit and Fath singled to bring up Atkins, who smacked a hot shot between the shortstop and third base to score two runs and give New Albany a 6-2 lead. That would be enough of a cushion for Morton, who completed the contest with 11 strikeouts.
That didn't mean it would be easy.
Silver Creek nearly claimed the lead in the sixth inning when it got an RBI single from Bush and putting runners on second and third with the tying run at the plate and one out after a key throwing error on New Albany. Morton struck out Gabby Jones to get the second out, but pinch hitter Vanessa Parrish scored a second Dragon run with an RBI single to make it 6-4 and keep the bases loaded. Morton managed to get Bailee Miller to foul out and end the threat.
The Dragons did manage a baserunner in their final at-bat on a call of catcher interference, but could never make a sustained push at tying the score.
"All day long we played really well," said Silver Creek coach Dave Harvey. "We're still trying to find our identity and still moving people around to fill some holes. Hopefully, this will be a learning experience and we can take the positive and keep growing."
Although Silver Creek ultimately lost in the final, the day wasn't a total loss. The Dragons saw one of the season's best individual performances thus far from starting pitcher Shayla Cravens.
The Silver Creek hurler delivered a no-hitter in the Dragons' 8-0 victory over Lanesville, striking out 19 and issuing just two walks along the way.
"It was pretty phenomenal," Harvey said. "We kind of expect that out of Shayla. Neither one of our pitchers ever turn down the ball when we offer and they go at it as hard as they can."
Bush and Miller each had two hits in the win for Silver Creek.
JACQUE HUNTER INVITATIONAL
At New Albany
NEW ALBANY 6, SILVER CREEK 4
Silver Creek 020 002 0—4 6 3
New Albany 220 200 x—6 9 2
WP — Morton. LP — Bush. 2B — Atkins 2 (N).
Records — New Albany 7-0, Silver Creek 3-4.