By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL - Saturday afternoon's Northwestern District softball tournament semifinal game didn't start well for second-seeded Sherando, as James Wood catcher Jessy Shipman lashed Courtney Reid's first pitch for a double into the left-center gap.
It was a sign of things to come as James Wood built an early lead and held on for a 4-0 victory over the Warriors.
Senior centerfielder Rachel Largent followed Shipman's double with a single to right, moving Shipman to third. Shipman eventually scored on a wild pitch, and Charlotte Viands executed a safety squeeze plating Largent, putting the Colonels up 2-0 before Sherando had its first at bats.
Those two runs exceeded the entire James Wood output in three regular season matchups with the Warriors (11-9) , who dominated the Colonels, 17-1, in those contests (5-1, 8-0, 4-0).
James Wood junior pitcher Kierstyn Peacoe throttled the Warriors' bats, earning the Colonels (8-12) a Tuesday evening finals contest against top-seeded Skyline, a 4-0 winner over No. 4-seed Millbrook in the day's the first semifinal, and a berth in the Region II tournament.
"We were pumped on the [bus] ride here," Colonels coach Ted McDaniel said. "In our pre-game, we were focused like a laser. I've never seen this year's team as focused and ready to play ball as were were today.
"[Sherando] has beaten us eight out of nine times in recent years. At practice yesterday I said, 'We've got to break this jinx. We've got the talent to beat them.'"
Peacoe, who knows a lot about tracking inbound tosses, was the third batter up in the top of the first.
Largent stole second on Reid's first pitch to Peacoe, who then worked a 2-2 count, when a far-outside pitch by Reid nicked catcher Haley Miles' glove on the way to the backstop, and Shipman was on her way to cross the plate, making it 1-0 Colonels, as Largent took third on the wild pitch.
Peacoe drew a walk and promptly stole second.
James Wood then resorted to small ball, as Viands laid down a 1-1 pitch for a successful safety squeeze bunt, plating Largent with the Colonel's second run.
The Colonels doubled their lead in the third, as Largent (2-for-4, two runs) knocked a one-out single to right.
Peacoe (2-for-3, one run) then doubled to middle-deep left field, near the foul line, and, although, Warriors left fielder Katie Seymour got to the ball quickly, the third base coach waved Largent on around third in what looked to be a hopeless attempt to score.
Seymour's peg to home was in plenty of time to nab Largent, but catcher Miles dropped the throw, making it 3-0, as Peacoe advanced to third on the throw.
Viands (2-for-3, 2 RBIs) came through again, scoring Peacoe with a single to left, putting the Colonels up 4-0.
The Colonels got one single each in the fifth (Peacoe), sixth (Whitney Dick), and seventh (Viands), as well as collecting a walk and reaching on an error, and Reid was able to strand those five to finish with four shutout innings.
But the damage to the Warriors' hopes for extending their season was done, as Peacoe scattered five singles, recorded five strikeouts and issued zero walks.
Miles went 3-for-3, and Reid was 2-for-3 at the plate for the Warriors. Peacoe kept the remainder of the Sherando lineup off the bases, including Seymour, who came in batting an area-best .562,
Peacoe's energy was bubbling over as she stole third base with two outs in the seventh.
Peacoe, frequently mixing in an effective change-up throughout the game, needed only five pitches in the fifth, and seven tosses in the sixth, to retire the Warriors in order in each frame.
"[I] always use my change-up, it's my favorite pitch to throw," Peacoe said. "In the first couple of innings, my defense proved to me they were going to back me up a thousand percent, that they were not gonna let any balls fall or make any errors. It was great. Just like the momentum we carried when we scored two runs in the first inning. It was awesome. Just all of our momentum and our energy.
"It might not have been one of my best [outings], but that doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is that we got the 'W,' because I can rely on my defense. I don't have to be pitching shutout games and pitch strikeout after strikeout after strikeout."
Reid, whose record fell to 11-9, surrendered eight hits, four runs (two earned), struck out three and walked two.
"It definitely was a different approach than what we're used to, that's the most they've scored on us," Reid said. "There's really not much to say. They came out on top.
"They were just hitting the right pitches, and they were falling [in for hits]. We were hitting hard right at them. That's the only difference."
Sherando junior Cierra Lewis, and sophomores Carly Nixon and Sarah Lutz, were injured and not available to play.
"Even though we had some players sitting out with injuries, that's no excuse," Warriors coach Clarence Smith said. "That doesn't say anything about how well James Wood's defense played today. Kierstyn [Peacoe] was on top of her game, her defense played really well behind her.
"I don't know if our injured players would have made that much of a difference. They put two on the board right away, and that's something they hadn't done against us. I don't think it psychologically affected us as much as it did them in their dugout."
"[Sherando's] a really good team and nothing happened today to change my mind about that," McDaniel said. "It's just that our girls wanted this game so bad. The seniors didn't want their careers to be over.
"Kierstyn was really ready to play ball, and she was so focused. She had the most determined look of anyone on the team. The key to her success was she hit the spots so well, especially when they got people on base. And our defense made no errors, and I was really happy with that."
In the first semifinal game, Skyline pitcher Sarah Beamer faced only 22 Millbrook batters, one above the minimum, as the No. 1 seed Hawks topped No. 4 seed Millbrook.
Freshman designated player ToriJo Brown gave Beamer all the run support she needed, with a rainbow shot three-run homer over the left-field fence in the first inning, collecting Michaela Craig, who got a lead-off walk, and Hannah Ritter, who reached on an error, on her trip around the bases.
Beamer, surrendered four singles, but one of them was caught stealing, and the other two were whipped off the base-paths with two Hawks double plays.
Beamer struck out six (136 on the season), issued no walks, improved to 14-2, and shaved a few points off her 1.24 ERA.
The Hawks will host James Wood, the only team to beat them, on a day when Beamer did not play, in an 11-1 Northwestern District regular season campaign, in the 6 p.m., championship game on Tuesday.