Pressure proves no problem for Monarchs: John Marshall overcomes Cabell Midland to win Class AAA

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — John Marshall senior standout Kadence Pettit is a firm believer the top teams and athletes in sports rise to the occasion when it matters most.

So after the Monarchs failed to do that in a 5-3 loss to Cabell Midland that prevented them from securing a Class AAA state championship Thursday afternoon, Pettit reminded herself and teammates of something important before their winner-take-all rematch with the Knights.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Pettit said.

It certainly appeared that way for John Marshall when given another crack at the Knights, which the Monarchs made the most of by never trailing in a 6-2 victory that gives them the Class AAA crown for the program’s third softball championship and first since 2012.

Pettit’s performance was a major reason why as she struck out nine and limited CMHS to four hits.

“We like to say that pressure is a privilege because we are put in these situations for a reason and we need to succeed,” Pettit said. “All you need is to have confidence in yourself, because that’s all you can do at the end of the day.”

After the Knights began play Thursday with a win over George Washington to avoid elimination, Cabell Midland (24-8) took it a step further. Needing two wins before one loss against the Monarchs, CMHS scored five unanswered runs to start its second game of the day, utilizing Becca Conrad’s run-scoring triple to highlight a two-run first inning, and adding another run in the third courtesy of KK Wallis’ double.

In the fourth, Sabrina Rose connected for a perfectly-placed two-run double to up the Knights’ lead to five.

“It’s tough when you lose that first game and have to try and play three games in one day,” Midland assistant coach Jason Harris said. “Nobody in the state expected us to be in this position.”

With Cabell Midland freshman Audrea Watts having pitched all seven innings of the victory against GW and only permitted to pitch seven more the rest of the day, the Knights opted to replace her with Haley Vaughan to start the fifth. Vaughan retired the Monarchs in order in the fifth, before running into trouble in the sixth.

With the bases loaded and one out, Monarchs’ No. 3 hitter Ava Blake ripped a triple to right-center that cleared the bases and brought her team to within two runs. However, as that play came to a conclusion, Blake came off the third base bag for a moment and was tagged for the second out, helping the Knights maintain the 5-3 lead after six frames.

“Probably just a little bit overzealous there,” JMHS head coach Ed West said. 

The Monarchs (30-5) had a final chance in the seventh and sent the tying run to the plate after Vaughan hit Carlee Yoho with a pitch with two outs. Vaughan kept calm and induced a ground ball from Kaylee White to preserve the Knights’ two-run win and force the winner-take-all matchup approximately 45 minutes later.

During the break between games, Pettit thought of what awaited with an opportunity to play again under even more pressure and how to get things turned around.

“As a leader, she will look at us and say ‘pressure is a privilege, we have this and I have you,’” Blake said. “She’s the kind of player that if you mess up and make an error, she’ll have your back and strike a girl out or get you another one so you can make up for your mistake.”

Pettit did her part by retiring Midland in order to start the decisive matchup, and Blake blasted a solo home run to left field in the home half of the first to give JMHS an early 1-0 lead.

With Watts having pitched 11 innings over the Knights’ first two contests of the day, she was allowed to throw only three more frames, thus leading to CMHS starting Vaughan at pitcher.

The Monarchs loaded the bases against her in the second, but settled for one run courtesy of a Paytyn Tucker sacrifice fly. 

“We had to get on them early and get them down a little bit,” West said. “That was very important to jump out on them and put them behind the 8-ball a little bit.”

However, Midland answered immediately and got a two-out, two-run single from Olivia Bell to pull even at 2 in the third.

Pettit led off the Monarchs’ half of the third with a ground-rule double and John Marshall ultimately regained the lead that inning at 3-2 on a Carlie Keyser ground ball to shortstop that brought home Reese Ward.

With momentum on the side of the Monarchs, Pettit retired Midland in order in the fourth and the Monarchs seized complete control when they came to bat that inning.

Yoho drew a walk to lead off and Masyn Inclan followed with a bunt single that put two runners on. Tucker followed with a two-run double to center that marked the end of Vaughan’s outing as pitcher and brought on Watts.

“They made it tough on us and I told the girls before we started we have a little bit of advantage here needing to get beat twice,” West said. “If we don’t play so well in the first game, at least we get two chances and it came down to where we needed it. I’m just really pleased with how it turned out.”

JMHS managed one more run that inning when Pettit connected for a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2.

Midland never seriously threatened again, although the Knights’ Nicole Harris was hit by a pitch to start the seventh. That was immediately followed by a line drive off the bat of Ellie McCormill that was snagged by Pettit, who flipped to first for the double play.

Pettit struck out Rose to finish things off.

“Having a strikeout for my last go-around warms my heart,” Pettit said.

After recording three hits in a loss to Midland, Inclan followed it with two of her team’s six hits, all of which Vaughan surrendered over three-plus innings. She suffered the loss after allowing six runs on six hits.

Watts threw three scoreless innings in relief with a pair of strikeouts. She earned the win in the Knights’ 5-3 victory over the Monarchs with four scoreless frames, giving her seven scoreless innings for the day against JMHS.

Vaughan gave her team a big lift by pitching six innings over the two contests against the Monarchs. While Watts, a freshman, is unquestionably Midland’s ace, Vaughan, a senior, gave it her all in her final game.

“I’m so proud of Haley Vaughan. I’ve coached her for years and she’s like one of my daughters,” Harris said. “She did a great job and she did exactly what we needed her to do. It just didn’t end up our way.”

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