Simon strikes out 15, Colts top RCB in sectional opener, 4-1

PHILIPPI, W.Va. — In part because she battled cramping for stretches of Tuesday’s Class AA Region II, Section 1 matchup against No. 3 Robert C. Byrd, Philip Barbour pitcher Sara Simon didn’t always have her best stuff.

What Simon did have, however, was a mixture of will, power and precision to hold the Eagles’ bats in check and then some, allowing the No. 2 Colts to claim an all-important 4-1 victory that advances them to winner’s bracket play Wednesday.

“We threw a mix of fastballs and I tried to place my fastballs and hit my spots,” Simon said. “I threw in a couple of two seams and we really just stayed off the junk because I couldn’t push off to throw. We just kind of placed balls and it worked out for us.”

Simon struck out 15 over a complete game four-hitter, and she only got stronger after needing a brief break during the top of the fourth inning to recover from the cramps.

“They never got caught up to her and they stayed long to the ball,” said PB coach Robert Simon. “We played to our strengths and she did locate a lot of pitches on the inside corner and that got some pop ups and gave our defense an opportunity.”

Both teams stranded a runner in scoring position in the first inning without taking a lead. RCB (14-8) got Avery Childers to second base with no outs in the top of the second, but Simon recorded a pair of strikeouts around a ground ball out to prevent her team from falling behind.

The game remained scoreless entering the bottom of the third before the Colts (18-3) broke through for the first run. No. 9 hitter Makayla Gonzales led off with double, and though Katielynn Warner followed with a strikeout, Warner reached base on a combination of a dropped third strike with an error.

Lilley Cross then sent a ground ball to shortstop that she beat out for an infield single, with Gonzales scoring on the play. The Colts ultimately loaded the bases with no outs after taking the lead, but Eagles pitcher Fran Alvaro showed no sign of panic.

Instead, she struck out Avery McDaniel, induced a pop out to shortstop off the bat of Hailee Poling and struck out Katelyn Cooper to end the inning with her team down just one run.

In the top of the fourth, Childers belted a one-out double, before she moved to third on a wild pitch and then scored on an error when the throw to third got away.

It was during the next at bat for the Eagles’ Makenzie Davis that Simon went to the dirt in pain and needed about 10 minutes of attention and treatment to recover on a relatively hot evening.

Simon hardly looked different upon the resumption, striking out Davis and Ava Junkins to keep the game tied at 1 and give her nine strikeouts up to that point.

“It’s definitely hard to win with one run. With the pitcher that we have though, we can win with one run if we put in good defense,” Eagles’ coach Mary Mayer said. “When you’re giving up 15 of the 21 outs in a game, you’re fighting with fire. I don’t think you can win a game and strikeout 15 times.”

When Philip Barbour came to bat in the home half of the inning, it capitalized on Eagles’ miscues to go back in front.

Katie Kennedy reached on an error to start the frame and a successful sacrifice bunt from Preslee Fincham led to another error that allowed the first two batters of the inning to reach. Gonzales followed with a two-run double to left that gave the Colts a 3-1 advantage.

“We didn’t play well defensively,” Mayer said. “We had a lot of physical and mental errors, but not to take away from Philip Barbour, because they played well, capitalized on our mistakes and put the ball in play.”

Gonzales scored from second on Warner’s single to center, making it 4-1 and giving PBHS complete control.

RCB managed only one baserunner over the final three innings, with that coming on Gina Alvaro’s one-out single in the sixth. She did not get beyond second base, and in the seventh, Simon struck out the side swinging to up her season strikeout total to 190 and wrap up the win.

“She battled through and that’s what you want out of a senior,” coach Simon said of his team’s pitcher. “The last couple of games, she hasn’t been the best and she didn’t move the ball as well as we wanted her to, but it worked.”

Simon issued one walk in the victory, which allows the Colts to travel to top seed Lincoln for a 6 p.m. winner’s bracket matchup Wednesday.

Gonzales was 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles, two runs and two RBIs. She accounted for three of her team’s seven hits, while Cooper had half of the remaining four.

“She’s been in a hitting slump and I dropped her down to the nine hole today,” coach Simon said of Gonzales. “I just wanted her to commit to the first pitch. She covers the plate — inside, out, high and low — better than any girl I have on this team and everybody saw that today. It was great for her confidence.”

Fran Alvaro struck out eight over six innings in defeat, upping her season strikeout total to 237 in the process.

Gina Alvaro had half of the Eagles’ four hits.

RCB is also in action at 6 p.m. Wednesday when it welcomes Elkins for an elimination game.

“Win or go home now, but it doesn’t change the way we play and it doesn’t change our mentality,” Mayer said. “It’s just a longer road.”

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