By Ben Brooks - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Warren County High School pitcher Nicole King continues to show why she just might be the queen of the softball diamond this spring.
The talented sophomore struck out 17 batters for the second straight game to lead the visiting Wildcats to an 8-0 non-district victory over Clarke County on Friday afternoon. King, who scattered four singles and walked just three, struck out the side in four of seven innings. Only twice in the game did a Clarke County base runner reach second.
"I knew 17 was my record, so I wanted to get 18," King said. "But it's still good."
King, who burst onto the scene last year as a freshman and was a major reason the Wildcats went from a winless to a .500 team, believes she's made necessary improvements in her game. And who can argue? She fanned 17 Falcons, including the first 10 of the game, in a 3-0 win over Central on Wednesday.
"I think I've picked up my speed a little," King said. "And I have better movement on my pitches than last year."
"She certainly makes things a lot easier on all of us," Wildcats coach Justin Stock said following his team's second shutout victory.
King's early-season dominance has been so pronounced that Stock isn't sure how good the rest of his team is, especially in the field. Even with six returning starters, the Wildcats have just two seniors.
"With her getting 17 strikeouts the first two games, we really haven't found out anything about our defense," Stock said. "I guess that's a good and bad thing."
There didn't seem to be much of a problem on the offensive end Friday. The Wildcats pounded out 11 hits, including three doubles. Leadoff hitter Ariel Asher was a big spark with two base hits, four stolen bases, and four runs scored. King and Val Eller also added a pair of hits and two RBIs apiece.
"I was pleased with our offense," Stock said. "We hit the ball well throughout the lineup."
Warren County wasted no time getting started. The Wildcats jumped on Eagles freshman Helen Good with a three-run first inning. King and Eller had run-scoring singles in the first and Taylor Bass added an RBI double.
The Wildcats (2-0) added single runs in the second and fourth before adding to an already insurmountable lead with a three-run sixth. King and Eller again had run-scoring singles and Nicci Hutzell added an RBI double to center.
That was more than enough support for King, who avoided danger by holding the meat of Clarke's batting order -- Sam Herndon, Amy Hagerdon, and Ashley Thorpe -- to a 2-for-8 performance.
"I just tried to move the ball around and not give them anything too good to hit," King said.
King, who struck out seven Eagles looking, is certainly no stranger to the Eagles and coach Susan Grubbs. The Wildcats twice edged Clarke County last year.
"She may be one of the best pitchers we'll see this year," she said. "But we need to be a little more disciplined at the plate, and that just comes with experience."
Grubbs isn't about to let the Eagles (1-1), who lost their top two pitchers from last season and return just four starters (three in their same position), get down after one lopsided loss.
"This is a good learning experience for us," Grubbs said. "Not all is lost for the season. I reminded the girls that we lost to them twice last year, and we were a pretty good team."
Grubbs said she will likely continue splitting the pitching duties between freshmen Sarah Herndon and Good.
"I think we'll alternate them for now, until we get a feel for what's going to happen," Grubbs said. "I don't think Helen did a bad job for her first varsity start. She seemed to settle down as the game went on."
Good surrendered 10 of Warren County's 11 hits, struck out two, and walked three. The Eagles had some problems defensively early on, with four errors in the first three innings.