Falcons topple Mountaineers for Conference 35 softball title

MADISON – Central High School softball coach Lisa Rhodes could tell her team was ready to play in the Conference 35 tournament championship game at Madison County on Thursday evening. She could tell on the bus ride over. She could tell during pre-game warm-ups. She sensed the Falcons “wanted to be here.”

Central, the No. 3 seed, had dropped a pair of close games to Madison County during the regular season, but the Falcons were the better team Thursday night with a championship trophy and a regional quarterfinal home game on the line.

Senior right-hander Bekah Ansbro tossed a three-hitter, sophomore first baseman Kristina Stead delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the fifth inning and the Falcons toppled the top-seeded Mountaineers, 1-0.

Central (19-3) will host Stuarts Draft, the Conference 36 runner-up, in the Region 2A East tournament quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Monday.

“I think we had more enthusiasm and our hitting was definitely better than last time,” said Stead, who had two singles in the win. “We came out here ready to win, and I think we kind of caught them off-guard a little bit because they already beat us twice. I think they thought they were just gonna come in here and beat us again.”

Madison County (16-5), which beat the Falcons by scores of 4-2 and 3-2 earlier this season, barely threatened Ansbro and Central’s defense on Thursday, as the Mountaineers had just one runner reach second base.

The Falcons, meanwhile, had plenty of chances break through against Madison starting pitcher Logyn Estes in the early innings but came up empty. Central stranded two runners in each of the first two innings and left a runner at third base in the fourth without scoring a run.

“I know that (Madison County coach Jesse Yowell) has got two strong pitchers and I knew he was gonna use them both,” Rhodes said, referring to Estes and senior left-hander Megan Shifflett. “Logyn Estes probably gave us more trouble than Megan in the past and we still had yet to see Megan (in the fourth inning). So then my thought was, you know what, even if we don’t pull one out against Logyn we’ve got Megan coming up. I knew we were gonna see a different tone at some point in the game.”

The Falcons put a run on the scoreboard in the fifth inning before that change of pace would come. Central junior catcher Kylie Stottlemyer worked a leadoff walk out of the No. 9 spot against Estes and moved to third on Shennan Waldron’s groundout and a sacrifice bunt by Autumn Shelton. With two outs, Stead jumped on the first pitch from Estes and dropped the decisive single between two Madison County outfielders in the right-center field gap to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.

“A couple games I had back then Coach told me not to think when I’m up to bat, and I just got in there and didn’t think and just hit the ball,” said Stead, who was announced as a first-team all-Conference 35 selection at utility following the win.

Central finished with seven combined hits off Estes and Shifflett – who came on to pitch in the sixth inning – although the Falcons stranded eight baserunners, including five in scoring position.

The Falcons notched three hits in the first two innings off Estes but didn’t square up a pitch for solid contact until Alex Mantz laced a lead-off double to right-center in the top of the fourth inning.

“We hadn’t seen Logyn’s kind of velocity in a while and I think it just took a little bit of time to get up to speed,” Rhodes said. “But they answered. They did great.”

The one run proved enough for Ansbro, who struck out 10 batters without issuing a walk while tossing her second straight three-hit shutout.

“I think I did a good job of keeping the ball off the plate a little bit,” said Ansbro, who was backed by errorless defense. “The top of the lineup does a really good job for them of making good, solid contact, so Coach stressed before the game to keep the ball off the plate and it paid off for us.”

Madison County threatened to break the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth inning, as Jeana Kelliher punched a hard bunt up the middle for the Mountaineers’ first base hit with one out in the inning before immediately moving the second on a stolen base. But Ansbro came back to catch Shifflett looking at strike three, then got cleanup hitter Sam Breeden to swing through a chest-high pitch to end an 11-pitch battle and the inning.

“Sam Breeden is a fantastic hitter and I knew that she was gonna go up there and take some good hacks and try to bring that runner in,” Ansbro said. “I just did a really good job of thinking about spinning the ball and keeping it just far enough off the plate where she couldn’t get it but just close enough where she would chase it.”

Ansbro, who improved to 15-3 in the circle and was named a first-team all-conference pitcher, also had a pair of hits in the victory. Waldron and Erika Thorpe had one single apiece for the Falcons.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com