CHULA - One hour before Thursday's Tiftarea Academy-Cook softball game, Lady Panthers head coach Rob Flick was nervous.
This was his debut as a head coach and Flick was nervous about the weather. Tuesday's game had been rained out.
"An hour before the game, I was just like 'Please, no clouds'," he said. One rolled in briefly, but disappeared without a rumble.
Flick was nervous about his players and he was nervous in general. This was the first competitive game for Tiftarea in nearly five months. The last sporting event held before the coronavirus shutdown was March 13.
Before the game was over, he had more worries. Cook trimmed a 5-1 lead to 5-3. But McKenna McCard socked an insurance home run and Tiftarea won by a 6-3 final to start the year 1-0.
"It took a little bit off my shoulders," said Flick of McCard's homer, which easily cleared the fence in right field.
Tiftarea never trailed Thursday, taking a quick lead when Pyper McCard walked in the first inning and came around on a throwing error.
The Lady Panthers expanded the margin to 4-0 in the third frame on runs by Pyper McCard, Anslee Jones and Laura Ann Jones. Trouble started for Cook on a one-out walk by McCard, then increased when both McKenna McCard and Laura Ann Jones were hit by pitches.
Sara Beth Royal then dinked a Lady Hornet offering between second and first and beat the race to the bag for one run. That was followed by Madi Hartsfield beating a throw from shortstop to first, a play that saw two runs tallied.
Tiftarea took its largest lead, 5-0, in the fourth as Caroline Heard singled and later scored on a throwing error.
While Tiftarea built its lead, McKenna McCard was cruising in the circle. Jacey Boykin started the contest with an infield single, but McCard buckled down to strand her at third. Cook didn't reach base again until the fourth.
McCard struck out five straight Lady Hornets at one point, causing them to change tactics completely. The first three hitters in the fourth laid down bunts and all five batters tried to do so.
They did strike for their first run in the fourth, Caroline Spell racing home on a wild pitch.
Pyper McCard took over pitching in the fifth.
Two more Cook runs crossed in the fifth, Boykin and Chloe Stone. The Lady Hornets were looking at a two-run deficit heading into the final inning, but McKenna McCard had other plans.
McCard blasted a two-out pitch for a solo homer. Cook didn't threaten in the top of the seventh.
The new social distancing rules were on display Thursday. Foul balls had to be retrieved by the fielding team. McCard gave Flick a phantom high-five at third on the home run. Teammates were not allowed to greet her at home.
Tiftarea will be on the field again Friday at 4:30 p.m., making up the rainout against Fullington Academy.