E.A. Sports Today

Vipers’ night

Oxford’s Smash It Sports Vipers erase eight-run deficit miraculously, beat Spark on Iakopo’s walk-off home run in ninth inning

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — The Smash It Sports Vipers’ season of foul calls, foul outcomes and foul moods took a night off Tuesday, and they filled the void with a miraculous comeback.

The Vipers erased an eight-run deficit with four runs apiece in the sixth and seventh innings then rallied from a run down in the eighth to win 11-9 on Mary Iakopo’s two-run, walkoff home run at Choccolocco Park.

The Vipers’ third victory of the season ended a five-game losing streak and left them with hope for a changing momentum amid a 3-12 first season in the Women’s Professional Fastpitch team’s new home.

“I think we needed to get over that first part of the season,” said Iakopo, the Vipers’ catcher. “I’m not saying thankfully it was rough, but we’ve turned a page, and we turned it together.”

Turn back the clock 24 hours, and the Vipers stood one out away from winning their first game back from a week’s midseason break. The Spark scored four two-out runs and won 7-4, touching off Vipers coach Gerry Glasco’s spirited postgame huddle with the team in their customary gathering spot in shallow left field.

“We’re a young team, and we’re learning how to play,” Glasco said. “Everybody’s got to want to come in and want to do your job, and I think we had some uncertainty.

“I don’t want to go into too deep on detail, but just step up. When we ask you to pinch hit or we ask you to pitch, anything we ask you to do, just do it. Other than that, there’s nothing for you to worry about as a player.”

The Vipers held a team meeting Tuesday, and it seemed to go for naught as the Spark built an 8-0 lead. Oklahoma City did it with Sami Williams’ RBI double in the third inning, Chloe Malauulu’s two-run home run in the fourth fourth, Lynnsie Elam’s RBI single in the fifth and a three-run sixth that initially tallied as a four-run sixth.

This is where things get miraculous.

Fa Leilua followed Williams’ RBI single with a three-run double to make it 8-0, and Malauulu’s apparent RBI single with two outs made it 9-0 … briefly. Discussion followed, and the last run was disallowed and the third out called because if an illegal pinch-runner substitution.

“When you have the catcher on with two outs, you can run not the last batter out, it’s the last out,” Glasco said. “They put in the wrong pinch runner.

“They misinterpreted the rules, and Hunter Veach, our assistant coach, caught it. That was a huge play and a huge break for us.”

The revived Vipers responded with four runs in the bottom of the sixth, some in miraculous fashion. Suzy Brookshire delivered an RBI single to make it 8-1, and Makena Smith followed with a check-swing grounder back to the circle. Spark pitcher Emily Watson threw low to first base, and the ball carried into foul territory, allowing Brookshire to score.

Iakopo, who reached on a walk, advanced to third on the play and Smith to second.

After Brooke Wilmes walked to load the bases, Iakopo was out at home on pinch hitter Jenna Kean’s bases-loaded fielder’s choice, but Alissa Dalton’s grounder plus an error by Spark second baseman Yvonne Whaley plated another run to make it 8-3.

After Tatyana Forbes struck out, Wilmes scored on a wild pitch to make it 8-4.

It was more of the same in the Vipers’ four-run bottom of the seventh. Smith hit an RBI double and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Raina O’Neal’s RBI double made it 8-7, and Dalton’s RBI single brought O’Neal home to tie the game and force extra innings.

The Spark took a 9-8 lead on Leilua’s sacrifice fly in the eighth, but miraculous things kept happening for the Vipers. Chelsea Gonzales reached base on a dropped third strike to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and pinch runner Mikayla Allee took the next three bases, including the tying run, on wild pitches.

Karly Heath walked amid the wild pitches and got all the way to third base on them. That set up Iakopo with a green light.

“I was just feeding off the energy from the people in front of me and the fact that my team believed in me up to that point,” Iakopo said. “Gerry said to just swing, and I (explative) hacked.”

The victory came as a relief for Glasco, who admitted that he began to wonder what he would say to the team after another loss.

“Last night hurt a lot,” he said, “and this should really help us.”

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