PHILIPPI, W.Va. — As a four-time defending Class AA state champion, Herbert Hoover is familiar with playing games where plenty is at stake this time of season.
On the other hand, Philip Barbour — the Huskies’ opponent in this week’s Region II series — has proved it more than belongs at this stage throughout a storied season, yet it marks the first appearance for the Colts’ softball program in a regional.
That was at least somewhat noticeable early in Monday’s contest at PBHS, the first in the best-of-three regional series. The Huskies scored in each of the first three innings, while holding the Colts’ offense in check for much of the evening to earn an 8-2 victory that puts Herbert Hoover one win from a berth in the Class AA state tournament.
“Everybody is good now. Everybody has won a sectional tournament and you’re fighting to get to the state tournament,” Huskies’ coach Missy Smith said. “We knew that they were a good team coming in and we had to set the tone early. I was pretty pleased with how we did that both offensively and defensively.”
The Huskies (20-3) will look to secure their trip to states Tuesday when they welcome the Colts for the second game of the series.
A timely two-out single from Grayson Buckner scored Sydney Shamblin for the game’s first run in the top of the first inning to put Hoover in front for good.
Hoover prevented the Colts (20-5) from putting the tying run on in their first at bat as left fielder Abby Hanson made a diving grab to prevent leadoff hitter Katielynn Warner from reaching.
After Hoover loaded the bases with one out in the second, Colts’ pitcher Sara Simon struck out Shamblin. But PBHS couldn’t escape without digging itself a deeper hole as Caroline Woody connected for a two-run single in the next at bat that allowed the visitors to lead 3-0.
“We just have to show up and play. We really looked bad the first couple innings,” Colts’ coach Robert Simon said. “That’s a really good hitting team, but our pitcher did what she needed to do. The outfield just didn’t react well to a few balls and then we all got down and had a couple balls where we should’ve made plays on in the infield and we didn’t. That’s the finest hitting team that we’ve played.”
PB did produce half of its offensive output in the home half of the second after Katie Kennedy led off with a single for one of the Colts’ five hits, before ultimately scoring on a wild pitch that made it 3-1.
However, the deficit stayed two for only two batters. After Hoover came to the plate in the third, Brooklyn Huffman belted a two-run home run that allowed Buckner to score after she’d led off with a double.
“The defense can’t relax no matter who’s up,” Smith said. “There’s pressure throughout the whole game and that’s what we strive for.”
With Hoover leading 5-1, Buckner showed no sign of letting the Colts back into the contest. She worked around a one-out single in the third, as well as a one-out error in the fourth to prevent Philip Barbour from scoring in either inning. Along the way, half of the six outs Buckner recorded in those frames were via strikeout.
“We got a little discombobulated in the third and fourth innings, but after that, we settled in and played our ball,” coach Simon said. “Our bats just weren’t good, but it happens.”
The Huskies put the game out of reach in the fifth when they got yet another timely two-out hit — a two-run single from Josi Fix that upped the visitors’ advantage to 7-1.
Huffman’s RBI single in the sixth marked the Huskies’ eighth run and stretched their lead to seven. All eight runs were scored with two outs, three of which Huffman drove in.
Kennedy’s groundout to shortstop in the sixth enabled Lilley Criss to score PB’s second run after she’d led off with a single and moved to third on Avery McDaniel’s double.
But that was all the offense PB could muster as Buckner retired the side in order with a pair of strikeouts in the seventh to wrap up the victory.
Buckner finished with 10 strikeouts and allowed five hits over the 98-pitch complete game performance.
“It’s postseason and you want to win them all,” Smith said. “There’s not one game that’s any more important than another. This is a step in the right direction and it is a huge momentum boost to win this first one and know that we get to play at home tomorrow.”
Huffman was 3-for-4, while Buckner and Fix added two hits apiece to help key the Huskies’ 12-hit attack.
Simon struck out eight and walked three while allowing eight runs over seven frames. She threw 50 more pitches (148) than Buckner despite each player recording 21 outs.
“It shows how we’re disciplined we were today,” Smith said. “We had harped on that once we knew we were playing Philip Barbour that she was going to be near the zone and we had to hit strikes. With good pitchers like her, if you hit and swing at her pitches, you’re not going to barrel it up and be successful. We were pretty patient at the plate so I’m pleased with that.”