BY GENE PHELPS
SMITHVILLE – There’s little doubt that Candiace McIntosh is one of Houlka’s top fast-pitch softball players.
She plays center field because she covers a lot of ground and has a strong arm.
She bats third in the order because she can hit.
In Thursday’s Division 2-1A game against Smithville, McIntosh ran down two fly balls in the gap. She also threw out a Lady Noles runner at the plate.
But on her visits to the plate, McIntosh was swinging at air, thanks to the pitching of Smithville sophomore right-hander Kami Roberts, who recorded 11 strikeouts and scattered seven hits in five innings to lead the Lady Noles to a 14-5 victory.
In the fifth inning, McIntosh missed so badly on a slow change-up by the normally hard-throwing Roberts that she started laughing … at herself.
“That was a good pitch she threw me,” McIntosh said after the game.
Smithville coach Jeremy Duke knows how Houlka’s slugger felt.
“That’s a good one,” he said of Roberts’ batter-baffling off-speed jewel. “It’s nasty, especially when she throws it for a strike.”
Roberts said all four of her pitches were working against Houlka: fastball, curveball, screwball and the change.
“I thought my screwball worked really well. I threw it 10 to 12 times,” she said. “I threw my change-up four or five times. Everything was working. It was just one of those nights.”
Roberts, who improved to 14-2, got plenty of support at the plate from her teammates, who pounded out 21 hits, including four by Lynndon Northington, and three apiece from Whitney Fears, Meagan Whitehead and Roberts herself.
“I had been really worried about our hitting, but it’s coming around,” Duke said. “We’re finally starting to hit the ball.”
However, Duke did watch his team commit five errors.
“It’s not an excuse, but we hadn’t been on the field in more than two weeks because of the weather and spring break,” he noted.
“Our defense usually plays great,” added Roberts.
Smithville improved to 17-2 overall and finished its division season with an 8-0 mark. The Lady Noles, who finished runners-up last season in the 1A state finals, begin postseason play April 4.
The Lady Noles get an opportunity to avenge one of their regular-season losses next Tuesday when they host Nettleton in a 7:30 p.m. Senior Night game.
The visiting Lady Tigers finished runners-up in Class 3A last spring.