by Kyle Koso
ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- Sometimes when players say, "We got this, Coach," you really need to take them at their word.
The 16u Carolina Elite Gold-Fusetti squad measured up in the big moments Wednesday at the TC/USA Nationals, earning a spot with 11 other teams in the championship bracket with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over the Nebraska Gold. Coach Dana Fusetti handed off the pitch calls to her catcher, Shelby Barbee, after one inning, and that decision paid off enormously as starter Karlyn Pickens allowed just one earned run along with nine strikeouts and just two walks.
It's also nice when the bottom of the batting order chips in with useful at-bats, and Carolina enjoyed production there as well with No. 9 hitter Georgia Ingle notching three hits, including the go-ahead run in the fourth and a leadoff hit that led to an important insurance run in the seventh.
Sure, there were stressful moments and occasionally missed opportunities, but Carolina never wavered in supporting each other, or in making Fusetti regret any strategies or moves.
"I've been telling them this is what we've been working for all season, and I've been riding them very hard. Today, I took a different approach, and I trusted them and knew they'd come away ahead," Fusetti said. "We've been playing non-stop, and I knew they had it in them."
Nebraska jumped ahead 1-0 when its second hitter, Addie Barnard (a Wichita State signee) punched out a home run. Pickens fought off some trouble in the second and fifth, mixing a terrific change-up with pure heat to keep Nebraska off balance.
"I tried to have a short memory at the start and not care about what happened, just look forward," said Pickens, who joined Barbee and the infielders in a long meeting in the circle when Nebraska had runners on second and third. "You just have to depend on your teammates there; we really needed that out, and we got it done."
"What makes this so special is in Colorado, we had a big game like this, and Karlyn wanted the ball," Fusetti said. "It didn't work out that time; she did her job, but we let down as a team ... this time, it's so awesome to have the same situation turn out differently."
Carolina got on the board in the fourth on a single by Jasmine Hall, and Ingle followed with a hit to make it 2-1. Her leadoff hit in the seventh was huge; courtesy runner Kyndal Woodard scored on a hit from Maya Douglas, and Pickens' infield tapper brought in the final run.
"I was just trying to relax, swing through the ball and make it hit my bat, take it wherever it could go," Ingle said. "We got through it there in the end, so it's all good."
Nebraska did have three hits in the seventh to go with a Carolina error, but Pickens went to work at the finish, ending the game with a strikeout.
"I'm used to (calling the game), and I trust my pitcher and that she will hit her spots," Barbee added. "We told her she just needed to pitch like she knows how to, and she got the job done. We got a little tense late, most teams do, but it shows how big we are to get through it and get the win."
Carolina will play at 8 a.m. Thursday, and a victory there will put the team in the 16u semifinals.