SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Tied at 3 with Lincoln County in the Class AAA state tournament opener for both teams, St. Albans elected to intentionally walk the Panthers’ Josie Bird in the top of the eighth inning.
Bird had belted a two-run home run two innings earlier that knotted the affair at Craft Field, and with first base open and two outs, the Red Dragons figured that gave them the best opportunity to keep the game knotted heading to the home half of the eighth.
Instead, Lincoln County cleanup hitter Ryleigh Shull followed with a sharp single up the middle to score Haleigh Adkins, who had reached on a one-out double. It proved to make all the difference as the Panthers hung on for a 4-3 victory that moves them into a winner’s bracket matchup later Wednesday against Jefferson.
“Last time we faced them, Ryleigh hit two home runs herself. That’s the reason we have Josie in the three hole, so we have sticks behind her,” Panthers’ head coach Tommy Barrett said. “Becca Pennington bats well in the five hole as well. We anticipated she was going to be walked there no matter what, but Shull came up with the hit to get the winning run in.”
St. Albans, which never trailed beyond the final score, squandered a prime opportunity to get even in its final at bat. Boom Coffman led off with a ground rule double to right and got to third moments later on a wild pitch. Ava Bentley lifted a fly ball to relatively deep center field, but Coffman never attempted to tag up and instead remained at third following the first out.
“A kid got a bad read on it, but they’re tired and get caught up in the moment,” Red Dragons’ coach Christian Watts said. “That’s on me as a coach. That’s not on a kid. We should’ve scored there, but it didn’t happen.”
Kiersten Lacy was next to the plate and she sent a ground ball to shortstop, which Adkins fired home in time for Fix to apply the tag on Coffman for the second out. Meghan Stump, who relieved Shull in the pitching circle during the second inning, struck out Bailey Gilbert for the final out.
“Young kids, they have the confidence they can hit and they know what their capabilities are, but you have to get them to be settled when there’s pressure and with this crowd and atmosphere,” Barrett said. “It’s huge for them because this is like a state title for us.”
Were it not for Bird’s two-run long ball to left in the sixth following a one-out error that allowed Allison Ramey to reach, the game would’ve never reached extras. The same can be said for Stump’s efforts in the pitching circle.
She took over with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning after the Panthers (24-4) had just fallen behind when Jaden Conrad drew a bases loaded walk. Although Sydney Young immediately worked a walk from Stump that allowed the Dragons (24-6) to lead 2-0, and Gilbert scored on a wild pitch moments later, but that third run proved to be all the offense the Red Dragons could muster.
“She settled in a little bit,” Barrett said of Stump. “We started off a little bit slow, but Stump has done a terrific job for us all of last year and all of this year as well. What we’ve tried to do is start Ryleigh and close with Stump. That’s been our ticket to get here and that’s what’ll continue our success to stay with it.”
Still, St. Albans pitcher Tayven Stephenson kept LCHS from scoring until two outs in the fourth, when Pennington belted a double that brought Ramey home.
Stump allowed a single in both the fourth and fifth innings, but continued to hold the Red Dragons in check until Bird’s two-run blast tied it. Stump worked 6 1/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts. She allowed three hits and walked two.
Stephenson tossed eight innings and struck out seven, while allowing five hits.
Adkins and Coffman had two hits apiece to lead their respective teams.
St. Albans will look to stave off elimination against John Marshall.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Watts said. “We just made it a little bit harder on ourselves to get to where we want to be.”