Marshall helps Sherando advance to regionals

Nikki Marshall

STEPHENS CITY — Some teams may not be comfortable sending their No. 9 hitter to the plate in a big spot. Sherando’s Nikki Marshall showed why the Warriors have good reason to feel a little differently.

Marshall delivered a two-run single to give the Warriors the lead for good on Friday in an 8-4 Conference 21 softball semifinal over James Wood. The win gives Sherando a Region 4A North berth.

“[Sherando coach Clarence Smith] has put me in the nine spot. And he’s told me time and time again that’s just my job to pick it back up at the end, and that’s just what I was aiming to do was put the ball in play for my team,” Marshall said.

With Sherando trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth, Heidi Brown drew a walk from James Wood pitcher Lauren King. One out later, Sherando’s Sara Stickman reached on an error. Sherando freshman Korenn Paige drew a walk to load the bases.

With two outs, Marshall singled to give the Warriors a 5-4 edge.

Hannah Lockhart

“Sometimes that No. 9 hitter is unheralded, and a lot of girls think that if you’re in the No. 9 spot it means you’re not a good hitter,” Smith said. “I tell her all the time that it’s the exact opposite. She’s a table setter for the top of the order. She found herself in a big spot right there and answered the bell.”

It looked like Sherando was in control of the game early. The Warriors scored a run in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly by Katie Manson, after the Warriors had loaded the bases on two errors and a hit batsman.

They extended the lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Lexi Schlag led off with a triple off James Wood starter Lani Spielman. Paige’s RBI single gave Sherando a 2-0 lead. Paige would later score on an RBI single by Carly Nixon.

Sherando pitcher Hannah Lockhart only allowed one hit in the first four innings. The Colonels rallied in the top of the fifth.

With one out, Taylor Woolsley was hit by a pitch. James Wood’s Alyssa Brown singled. Kenzie Garrett reached third on an error, which scored two runs to cut the lead to 3-2. Garrett scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 3-3. Courteney Harper then reached on an error, and Lindsey Anderson followed with a single.

With still only one out, Harper scored on a fielder’s choice to give the Colonels a 4-3 edge. Smith said he was OK with the errors from the usually strong defensive team.

“I don’t think it was a nerves thing. I think it was the girls trying to step up and be the one that makes the play,” Smith said. “If you look at our errors, they were all aggressive plays. … It was girls trying to seize the moment, which as coaches we always talk about — we would live and die by that. That’s absolutely fine.”

The Warriors (17-4) responded with the two runs in the bottom of the fifth, and Lockhart cruised through the last two innings, retiring seven straight batters to end the game.

“I noticed I do a lot better when we’re up,” Lockhart said. “I feel better, and I feel like I don’t have too much pressure on my shoulders. I feel like everybody just loosens up when we’re ahead.”

“Hannah is unique. Her bulldog mentality in the circle — she never shies away from the moment,” Smith said. “When things don’t go her way, she starts to get angry and more determined to make them go her way. She imposes her will on opposing offenses quite often. She really buckled down and really attacked their hitters and put us in position to win.”

Sherando added three runs in the bottom of the sixth with two walks, an infield single, a hit by a pitch, two wild pitches and two stolen bases.

Lockhart allowed only three hits and struck out five. Marshall led Sherando with two hits and two RBIs, and Schlag also had two hits and two runs scored.

The Warriors play at Woodgrove on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Conference 21 final. Smith said he believes it is only the third regional berth in program history.

“We’ve come together and we’re really functioning really well now as a team,” Smith said. “I think that we understand that the goal is in sight and the girls are actually working as a cohesive unit toward that goal, which is your dream as a coach.

” … That’s a good team across there, so you feel proud that we were able to beat a good team to get there. It wasn’t handed to us. The girls earned it.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com