SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the immediate aftermath of Kadence Pettit’s final strikeout of her storied John Marshall career, she tossed her protective mask and glove and embraced battery mate Masyn Inclan, who had just finished catching all 14 innings of Pettit’s pitches on championship Thursday at the WVSSAC State Softball Tournament.
The Monarchs outlasted Cabell Midland for a 6-2 victory in the decisive championship contest at “The Rock” at Little Creek Park, marking the third softball championship for JMHS and its first in 11 seasons.
For Pettit, who is bound for West Liberty to continue her career, it was a storybook ending to a sensational career. She helped guide the Monarchs to state tournament berths all three years she had the chance to (Pettit’s freshman season was wiped out due to the COVID pandemic in 2020).
“I’m so happy for her. She’s pitched great for three years,” veteran Monarchs’ head coach Ed West said. “Unfortunately, her freshman year was the COVID year and we didn’t get to play or she would’ve put up even more numbers. The way she’s played the last three years was outstanding. I can’t say enough. She’s an all-state pitcher and a great kid with a bright future.”
In 2021, John Marshall lost both contests it played at the state tournament. The Monarchs returned the next season and fell short in their 2022 state tournament opener to Jefferson in 11 innings, before avoiding elimination with an extra-inning victory over St. Albans and another win over Lincoln County. That allowed JMHS to reach the championship round, but needing two victories before one loss against Jefferson, the Monarchs suffered a 6-1 defeat that sealed their runner-up fate.
This time around, there was no denying Pettit and company.
In the first of three matchups with the Knights, Pettit struck out 10 and limited Midland to two hits, while the Monarchs overcame a two-run deficit courtesy of a two-run double from No. 9 hitter AC Cumberledge. A leadoff triple from Reese Ward in the seventh put her in position to score what proved to be the winning run in a 3-2 victory.
Later Wednesday, JMHS put forth its best offensive showing of the tournament by scoring seven runs in the fourth to turn a one-run deficit into a comfortable lead en route to an 11-2 six-inning victory against George Washington. Pettit was again sharp against the Patriots and limited them to seven hits with four strikeouts, helping position her team in the driver’s seat entering Thursday.
The Monarchs learned Thursday morning they’d again face Cabell Midland in the final after the Knights avoided elimination by getting past GW.
Midland got the better of John Marshall in the first of their two matchups Thursday, scoring five unanswered runs to start the game and thwarting the Monarchs’ attempt at a rally to prevail, 5-3. The play on which John Marshall produced all three runs in that matchup was oddly enough one that also helped the Knights take a step toward securing that victory.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Monarchs’ No. 3 hitter Ava Blake roped a bases clearing triple that brought her team to within two runs. On that play, Blake displayed her usual surplus of emotion, but inadvertently stepped off third base, allowing an alert Nicole Harris to apply the tag for the second out. The Monarchs never mustered another hit and came up short, setting up a decisive third matchup between the two teams 45 minutes later.
In the brief time between games, Pettit did her part to ensure the disappointment of a loss wouldn’t carry over into the winner-take-all affair. She reminded her team how fortunate they were to play such a meaningful game.
“Going into Game 2, we locked down,” Pettit said. “We locked in and knew we had to play good defense and to put the ball in play. Pressure is a privilege and the pressure was on us.”
Blake also did her part to keep teammates calm with an understanding that the Monarchs were one solid performance away from bringing their desired hardware back to Glen Dale.
“The way that I lead myself is the way I want each of my teammates to lead themselves as well,” Blake said. “I try to lead by example but also try to remind myself that it’s process over outcome and the process of which I’m doing things is what I try to focus on rather than the outcome of what it was. That’s my mentality going into every game.”
Pettit then rose to the occasion and kept Midland from scoring in six of the seven innings, while the Monarchs used Blake’s first inning home run to build an early lead. Although the Knights rallied to tie the game at 2 in the third inning, JMHS scored one run in each of the first three innings and took control of the contest with a three-run fourth.
That was plenty of support for Pettit, who was aided by Paytyn Tucker’s three-RBI effort to earn her third win of the state tournament.
Over four state tournament games, Pettit went 3-1 and allowed 11 runs on 20 hits in 27 innings. In all three victories, the opposition was limited to two runs. Pettit issued one base-on-balls in each of her four outings and struck out 29 on the state’s highest state for softball.
“The first time I stepped on the field was with Kadence and this was our last game that we got to play together,” Blake said. “Kadence has absolutely been our rock and the past three years we’ve been at states she’s just been hardcore. That girl never gives up. I’ve never seen a girl shove so hard when she wants something, but she is the definition of a clutch player for sure.”
Blake can also lay claim to that title. A junior already committed to Marshall, she drove in a team-best six runs over four games in South Charleston.
“She has a lot of energy and compassion,” West said. “She plays her heart out every time.”
Pettit and Tucker are the only seniors on a team that relied heavily on all four of its juniors. The Monarchs also had six sophomores and 11 freshmen, though Pettit leaves behind big shoes to fill.
“For her to go out like this,” Blake said, “was like the stars aligning for us.”