By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Timing is everything in softball, and it proved costly for Warren County on Tuesday night.
Defense and timely hitting were the difference as Liberty pulled out a 1-0 Evergreen District win over the Wildcats. Warren County had twice as many hits as Liberty, but couldn't produce any hits when it needed them.
"I thought their outfielders tracked down a lot of balls and covered a lot of ground in the outfield tonight," Warren County coach Justin Stock said. "We just weren't able to get the key hits."
Liberty scored the only run of the game in the top of the second inning. Liberty's Diane McDaniel doubled with one out. Maggie Fulcher then reached on an error, which allowed McDaniel to score.
"I thought they did a good job of putting the ball in play," Stock said. "They made our defense have to work."
Warren County pitcher Nicole King surrendered only three hits and struck out 10, but one run was all the Eagles would need.
Warren County threatened to score in several innings. In the bottom of the second, Taylor Bass led off with a single and stole second. Paige McLachlin flied out, but Bass was thrown out trying to advance to third on the play. Cassie Green singled and went to second on a throwing error, but Sydney Anderson flied out to end the inning.
The Wildcats (8-2, 1-1 Evergreen) had their biggest opportunity came in the bottom of the third inning. Kacie Stacks led off with a single, and Ariel Asher followed with an infield single. Asher was then forced out at second on a fielder's choice by King. Dominique Martin then drew a walk from Liberty starter Haley Huffman to load the bases with one out.
Warren County cleanup hitter Nicci Hutzell then hit a grounder, which forced out Stacks at home, and Bass grounded out to squander the Wildcats' best chance to score.
"When you have a runner on third with one out, you expect to execute and get her in," Stock said. "With the 2-3-4 hitters up, you expect them to get the job done."
Liberty brought in Taylor Davidson to pitch the final three innings of the game, and the Wildcats managed only one hit off of her. In the bottom of the sixth, Hutzell had a one-out single, but Bass flied out. Hutzell then stole second, but was left stranded after McLachlin popped out to end the inning.
King said once the Wildcats got behind, she felt a little more pressure on the mound to keep things close.
"I was a little off," King said. "Once we got behind, I think I started to let it get to me a little. I was trying not to lose it for my team. Overall, I think I did all right."
Six different players had a hit for the Wildcats, but Martin is the only player that reached base twice with a single and a walk.
Warren County entered the game tied for first, but Stock said the team will have to regroup quickly as they get ready to travel to first-place Fauquier on Friday.
"Hopefully this is an eye-opener," Stock said. "[Liberty was] the only team in our district coming into today that had a losing record. I don't know if they thought, 'This is a home game, we should whup up on them,' or what. Hopefully, this will bring us back to reality."