Triad eliminates Newton

Cierra Puckett isn’t particularly big, tall or strong.

Triad High School’s shy, five-foot-5-ish left fielder quietly wears No. 9 and appears anything but imposing from her ninth spot in the order.

The unlikely hero sent second-team, All-Ohio pitcher Kirsten Burden and her Newton teammates packing on Wednesday with a pair of clutch doubles, pacing the Cardinals to a 7-5, come-from-behind win in a Division IV regional softball semifinal at Tippecanoe.

“For her, that’s just a real big boost,” said Triad coach Shari Dixon, soaked head-to-toe by her players’ water-cooler antics.

“She’s been hitting the ball all season, but just right at people. She finally got some to fall into the gaps today. In this game, you’ve got to hit one through nine. … It can’t always come from the top.”

With Triad trailing, 5-2, in the bottom of the fourth inning, Puckett launched a fly ball into deep left-center field, plating Jenna Ober and Chelsea Price, who’d each singled and advanced on a wild pitch.

One inning later, with the score tied, 5-5, Puckett was back for more. This time, the Cardinals’ junior sent a fly over the head of Indians left fielder Tiara Jackson, who misjudged its speed, took a step in, and got burned.

“Honestly, I can’t tell you what pitches (Burden) threw me,” Puckett said, grinning. “I just saw that we were down and I knew the team needed my help. I was a little nervous, but I just cleared my mind and timed up the pitcher.”

The Cardinals (13-16) outhit Newton, 13-6, and will face the winner of today’s Covington-Marion Local matchup in a regional final at noon Saturday. Newton finished 19-11.

“They’re a good hitting team, and we knew that going in,” said veteran Indians coach Kirk Kadel, a career 500-game winner.

The loss was a bitter disappointment for Burden, who tore her ACL in soccer and worked tirelessly to recover.

The senior pitched with pain — and a knee brace — all season long.

“This one’s pretty tough for her,” Kadel said of his Ohio Northern-bound star. “She took us to state (in 2010) as a freshman.

“The fact that she was even out here competing today is a testament to her character and just how hard she’s had to work.”

Price went 2-for-3 for Triad, including a game-tying, RBI single in the fifth. Puckett finished 3-for-3 with four RBIs.

Pitcher Hannah Watkins went the distance for the Cardinals, striking out three.

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