By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- The Clarke County Eagles needed only one hit to win their second game in two days, ending the Warren County Wildcats' season-opening streak of three shutouts, with a 2-1 victory in a non-district softball game on Wednesday night.
Clarke County freshman Helen Good made sure that one hit was, indeed, a good one, as her one-out fifth inning double drove in Amy Hagerdon, who reached first on an error, with Clarke County's first run.
Good drove an 0-2 pitch to the center-field fence, right under the 200-foot sign.
"I like it inside and it was low, I really love the low ball, and I just went with it," Good said.
Another Clarke County freshman making good was pitcher Sarah Herndon, who limited the Wildcats to three singles, registering five strikeouts, and issuing no free passes. Herndon retired the Wildcats in order in five innings in her complete game win.
"My screwball was really working for me and my rise ball were the best," Herndon said. "I just tried to move it around the plate and get them off guard. [Having the runs on the board] helped a lot."
The Wildcats sophomore pitching ace, Nicole King, had registered 17 strikeouts in Warren County's 8-0 win over the Eagles on March 19.
King was in her signature good form in the early going, facing the minimum 12 batters, and notching six strikeouts through the first four innings.
The only base runner was her pitching opponent, Herndon, who King struck out in the third inning, but Herndon reached first base on a passed ball by catcher Taylor Bass. Bass quickly made amends by throwing out Herndon attempting to steal second base.
King then struck out Olivia Gore and Samantha Herndon to end the inning.
In the fifth inning, things went downhill for King and the Wildcats.
With one out, Eagles shortstop Amy Hagerdon hit a routine grounder to third that freshman Briana Caison fielded cleanly. But her throw to first base was high.
Sydney Anderson made a great effort on the catch, fully extending her glove hand above her shoulder in foul territory, while trying to keep her right foot in contact with the bag. But she needed another inch and Hagerdon was called safe.
Good stepped into the batters-box and fouled off King's first pitch, then swung at and missed a fastball up in the zone. Good then caught every bit of the next pitch for an RBI double to center. Courtesy runner Michelle Baker replaced Good.
A passed ball enabled Baker to move to third. Sarah Herndon then helped her own cause by lofting a fly ball just deep enough to right field to enable Baker to tag up and beat Sara Flouhouse's throw to the plate, producing the Eagles' go ahead and eventual game-winning run on the sacrafice fly.
"I'm really proud of the girls with their effort ," Eagles coach Susan Grubbs said. "We got shutout against them, 8-0, a couple of weeks ago, and we struck out 17 times. Today, we still didn't get the bat on the ball a lot, but I told the girls after the game, the key to the game was our pitching and our defense. We made the plays.
"Sarah [Herndon] got five strikeouts and gave up no walks, and we made no errors. You can't ask much more of the girls. Fortunately, I've got seniors in the infield, and that makes a big difference."
The two Clarke County runs, and the manner in which they were produced, seemed to bother King, as she lost her sharpness, going high out of the strike zone.
After striking out Chelsea Nelson to open the sixth, King walked Megan Ryan on a 3-1 count, then went to 3-2 with Gore before issuing a rare consecutive second walk.
King also went to a full count on Samantha Herndon before striking her out, and 2-2, with four consecutive foul balls by Ashley Thorpe, before retiring her on a called third strike. King expended 30 pitches in the inning.
"I was just struggling to hit my spots tonight," King said. "If I think too much about throwing a pitch, then it doesn't go where it's supposed to go."
The Wildcats mounted a rally in the bottom of the sixth.
After Nikki Hutzell struck out, Ariel Asher hit a flare to shallow left-center for a single, then stole second as King took a strike.
King was then hit on the inside of her right knee and was awarded first base, where courtesy runner Kailey Skaggs replaced her.
Bass then hit a soft grounder to third. Samantha Herndon came in on it, and made a toss to shortstop Hagerdon covering third to force out Asher. It was too late to throw out Bass at first, but Skaggs was caught between first and second and tagged out to complete the double play and snuff out the Eagles' rally hopes.
"Our error was by a freshman and we had two freshmen on the base paths when they got the double play," Warren County coach Justin Stock said. "I debated on leaving Nicole in to run. She's a little more experienced, but she had just got hit in the leg and I thought, maybe it would be good time to take her out. There's really is not excuse for it, but it happens at times."
King returned to her first-inning form, needing only seven pitches to retire the Eagles in order in the seventh.
Sarah Herndon needed twice as many pitches, but used those 14 to get three groundouts and pick up the win for the Eagles.
"It's pretty frustrating when you lose a game and you only give up one hit," Stock said. "We had some mistakes that really cost us. We have lot of inexperience. We didn't have one senior starting tonight. Caity Thompson was sick.
"Nicole [King] didn't get ahead in the count as much [as usual] today, but she struck out a goodly number. Timely hitting, you get runner on, and move her over, and they did what they needed to do to win the ball game."