By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Ashley Thorpe hates pressure situations. The Clarke County senior hates the feeling that her whole team is relying on her to come up with a big hit.
However, on Tuesday night, Thorpe faced a pressure situation twice against Central and both times she delivered the big hit. The biggest hit came in the form of a walk-off, two-run homer to give the Eagles a 7-5 victory over the Falcons in non-district softball action.
Thorpe said to take her mind off the pressure, she tried to think about other important things.
"I was really feeling the pressure," Thorpe said. "When I was at the plate, I tried to think about my dog. We had to take him to the vet because he hasn't been feeling well. I tried to think about my family.
"It was a good feeling when I hit the home run."
The Eagles (2-2) started the bottom of the seventh trailing 5-4. Central pitcher Brea Hinegardner had only allowed six hits in the game, and only two over the previous three innings.
Clarke County's No. 9 hitter Olivia Gore led off the inning with a solo home run over the center-field fence to tie the game. It was the first home run of the freshman's softball career.
"It was a good pitch and I just hit it," Gore said. "I thought it was just going to be a pop fly and it turned out to be a home run."
Two outs later, Samantha Herndon drew a walk to bring Thorpe to the plate. Like Gore, Thorpe didn't think it was a home run at first. As her teammates began jumping up and down and celebrating, Thorpe realized what she had done.
"I was like, 'Oh my God,'" Thorpe said. "I was stunned. It was just amazing."
Thorpe said it helped that she had been in a big situation earlier in the game.
In the bottom of the third inning with the Eagles trailing 1-0, they started a rally. Gore picked up her first varsity hit with a one-out bunt single.
Megan Rion drew a walk and, with two outs, Herndon's infield single loaded the bases. Thorpe came up big with a two-run single to give Clarke County a 2-1 lead.
"Ashley was big for us all day," Clarke County coach Susan Grubbs said. "She hits in the four-hole for a reason and she did her job."
The Eagles added two more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Rion reached on a one-out error and Heidi Crockett followed with a single. Herndon then had a ground-out RBI. Crockett scored on a wild pitch to give Clarke County a 4-1 lead.
Clarke County starting pitcher Helen Good had a strong outing through the first five innings. The freshman allowed only two hits, striking out four with only one walk.
In the sixth inning, the Falcons' bats finally came to life. Hinegardner led off with an infield single. Sam Hedrick followed with a double and then Michaela Fleming's infield single loaded the bases. Hannah Schechtel doubled to drive in two runs and cut the lead to 4-3.
Grubbs then replaced Good with fellow freshman pitcher Sarah Herndon. Hillary Gochenour hit a grounder back to Sarah Herndon, but the throw to the plate was not in time. One out later, Schechtel scored on a wild pitch to give the Falcons a 5-4 lead.
"We finally started getting some solid contact on the ball," Central coach Jill Yew said. "I think the kids finally started getting their timing down and started putting the bat on the ball."
Hinegardner led the Falcons (1-3) at the plate with two hits, an RBI and a run scored. The senior also struck out five in taking the loss.
Central had only one extra player available due to injuries to Taylor Cooper and Ashley Jernigan. Yew said she is not sure when they will be back. Yew said overall she was pleased with her team's performance.
"I think the positives outweighed the negatives," Yew said. "I was happy that we came back and that we started hitting the ball."
Thorpe led the Eagles with two hits and four RBIs, while Herndon had two hits and an RBI.
With a young squad, the Eagles are sure to have some growing pains, but the win over Central showed the team's potential. Grubbs said she felt the game was important because it was against another Group A team.
"We're not too worried about losing to a Warren County or a Sherando, but I told the kids this is a big game because it's a single-A team," Grubbs said. "You want to be able to match them pitch for pitch. I thought it was a good win for us against a decent single-A team.
"I was really proud of the way we fought back. Hopefully this will be a launching pad for us."