SHINNSTON, W.Va. — Leading up to Wednesday’s Class AA Region II, Section 1 winner-take-all championship, No. 2 Philip Barbour and No. 1 Lincoln had met five times this season. Over those matchups, three of which the Cougars won, both teams scored 18 runs.
So as the Big 10 Conference rivals were set to battle for a sixth time 24 hours after Lincoln prolonged its season with a 5-4 win in eight innings over the Colts, a close contest was to be expected.
The matchup lived up to that billing and then some as the teams went to extra innings for a second straight day tied at 3. In the top of the eighth, Philip Barbour got a timely two-out infield single from leadoff hitter Katielynn Warner that was enough to score Hailee Poling for what proved to make all the difference in the Colts’ 4-3 victory.
“They battled back. It was absolutely amazing,” Colts’ coach Robert Simon said. “A total team effort and they bought in. It’s commitment and how bad do you want it? And they wanted it bad tonight.”
With the win, Philip Barbour (20-4) captured the softball program’s first sectional championship and advanced to a best-of-three regional series next week against four-time defending state champion Herbert Hoover.
The Cougars, who beat the Colts 1-0 in late April for a Big 10 Conference crown, saw their season end at 22-3. Lincoln was 19-0 in games not against Philip Barbour.
“It’s a shame one of us has to sit at the house and it’s us this year,” Lincoln coach Yancey Weaver said. “We made way too many mental mistakes tonight. We had way too many errors [six]. For us to commit that many errors and be even in that game is amazing. Hats off to them. They’re a good ball club and I wish them luck. We hit the ball pretty well tonight, but our defense wasn’t there tonight.”
Warner’s winning hit came after Poling led off the eighth with a double that was fair by inches down the right field line. Poling got to third on a sacrifice bunt, but Cougars’ pitcher Delaney Haller struck out Bella Bibey for the second out of the inning. That set the stage for Warner to deliver the winning hit, which she sent toward second base before utilizing her speed to beat the throw to first.
In the home half of the eighth, Colts’ pitcher Sara Simon retired the heart of the Cougars’ lineup in order by striking out Cadence Lambert and inducing consecutive ground balls to shortstop Avery McDaniel.
“I got fired the last two innings from calling pitches and it was great,” coach Simon said. “I don’t need to be in the way.”
The Colts stranded five baserunners through the first three innings, before the Cougars went ahead first in the third.
Lexi Owens led off with a single and scored the game’s first run with one out when Haller singled to center and the ball was mishandled. That also enabled Haller to move up to second, which proved important when Lambert followed with an infield single that was also misplayed, allowing Haller to score and the Cougars to lead 2-0.
The advantage, however, was short-lived, and much of it had to do with a decision from coach Simon.
Katelyn Cooper and Poling began the fourth with back-to-back singles and with runners on second and third with one out, Simon elected to have Bibey pinch hit for freshman Makayla Gonzales.
The move couldn’t have worked out better as Bibey belted a three-run home run to left field to turn a two-run deficit into a 3-2 Colts’ lead.
“The kid has a really good bat. She’s just inexperienced,” coach Simon said. “But you saw what she can do. I had no doubt in my mind that Bella was ready. She hits bombs at our field all day long.”
PBHS maintained that 3-2 lead until the fifth when Haller connected for a solo home run with two outs that tied it.
The Colts had the first two batters of the seventh reach on Lincoln errors, but they were unable to muster a run.
When Lincoln’s Alaina Rice led off the seventh with a double, it put the winning run in scoring position. However, Simon struck out Owens and got Aliyah Elder to pop out to second for the second out. Haller then stopped into the batter’s box, and with first base open, the Colts elected to pitch to her despite Haller being 3-for-3 with a home run up until that point.
The decision paid off as Simon got Haller to hit a ground ball back to the pitching circle, and Simon fired to first for the out.
“This is a tough place to win. Lincoln is a very good team and Delaney’s a champion,” coach Simon said. “We face her in travel ball about every weekend in the summer and she’s legit. The girls found a way to put the ball in play. It wasn’t always pretty, but they did what they had to do. And they cleaned up their fielding.”
Simon allowed seven hits and had nine strikeouts and one walk in eight innings. She and Poling each had two hits, including one double.
Haller and Lambert combined for five of Lincoln’s seven hits. Haller had six strikeouts and did not issuing a base-on-balls, while allowing nine hits over eight innings.
“I’m proud of my girls. They fought hard all year long,” Weaver said. “For two seasons, we’ve won the Big 10 Conference and lost six games in two years. We’re losing one senior. We have a future coming to us. We have to be focused and use this as a learning experience. I’ve told them since day one if we keep the errors to three a game, we’ll play with anybody. But when you get above that, it makes it difficult.”