Panthers shut down Falcons for regional title

Central's shortstop Shennan Waldron waits on a throw while Page County's Savanah Plum slides safely into second on a steal during the third inning Friday night in Woodstock. Page County won the Region 2A East final 4-0. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Page County’s softball team has a knack for being aggressive with runners on the base, so Central head coach Lisa Rhodes was told prior to the teams’ meeting in the Region 2A East championship game Friday evening.

To counteract that, Central would need to limit the Panthers’ opportunities with runners on. For six of the seven innings Friday night, Falcons senior starting pitcher Bekah Ansbro and the Falcons’ defense did that. But things unraveled a bit in the third inning.

Page County broke out for four runs in the top of the third inning – highlighted by a three-run single by sophomore third baseman Nicole Mongold – while Central struggled to find any offensive consistency in a 4-0 Panthers victory.

Central (21-4), which made its first regional championship game appearance in the program’s history, will return to action next Friday in the VHSL Group 2A state tournament semifinals in Salem. The Falcons will take on Glenvar, a 5-0 winner over Lebanon in the Region 2A West championship game.

“I knew going into this that if we let them get runners on base they were gonna take advantage of it,” Rhodes said of Page County following Friday night’s loss, “and that’s what they did.”

Page County's Kate Gordon slides into second base on a steal attempt as Central's Shennan Waldron prepares to catch the throw during fifth inning action Friday night in Woodstock. Gordon beat the throw, but was called out for leaving too early on the pitch. Rich Cooley/Daily

Ansbro, who scattered three hits outside of the third inning and finished with 13 strikeouts, reached largely unfamiliar territory with the Panthers’ offensive outburst in the third, which was powered by four hits. Page County’s four runs were the most Ansbro has surrendered since April 19, a span of 13 games.

The Panthers (20-4) opened the top of the third inning with a leadoff single by No. 8 hitter Savanah Plum (2-for-3), who was ruled safe on a close play at first after a diving stop by Central shortstop Shennan Waldron. Following a strikeout, Falcons third baseman Alex Mantz made a backhanded snag on Kate Gordon’s sharp grounder down the line but had no time to make a throw.

Ansbro then got ahead in the count against Savannah Jones before the Page County senior sent a soaring fly ball that fell safely between two Central outfielders at the base of the fence in left-center for a run-scoring single and a 1-0 Panthers lead.

“Credit to them, they used the momentum and got on a roll, took advantage of it,” Ansbro said.

Page County loaded the bases one batter later when the Falcons failed to get the lead runner at third on Brooklynn Fridley’s bunt. Mongold then fought Ansbro through a nine-pitch at-bat that ended with a bases-clearing line drive into right-center as Fridley streaked all the way around to score from first base.

Central's Rebekah Ansbro delivers a pitch during Friday's Region 2A East final against Page County in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

“(Mongold) did a really good job,” said Ansbro, who had given up just one run through Central’s first four playoff games entering Friday. “I hung that changeup a little bit too far up in the zone, but she did a good job of sitting back and driving it. I’ll give her credit for that one.”

The four-run deficit was enough to bury Central, which mustered only four hits off Page County freshman Sabrina Foltz while stranding four runners.

“You’re (down to) the four best teams in the state, you’re gonna see stuff like that,” Rhodes said of the Panthers’ ability to keep Central off the scoreboard. “It’s not a shocker. They’re a good ball program. You’ve gotta string them together to get hits. You’ve gotta get runners in scoring position and you’ve gotta get them across the plate.”

Foltz struck out only two batters over her seven innings of work while relying on Page County’s defense, a philosophy that has been a staple of the Panthers’ program, according to longtime head coach Alan Knight.

The Panthers turned a double play to erase Waldron’s leadoff single in the first inning, and Falcons junior Erika Thorpe had a would-be single taken away on a 9-3 putout by Page right fielder Dani Mauck in the bottom of the third. Gordon – who was 2-for-4 at the plate – also made a great catch in foul territory to end the third while colliding with Plum, the left fielder.

Central's Rebekah Ansbro walks off the field after being called out following a collision with Page County's shortstop while running to third base during the sixth inning of Friday night's game in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central stranded two runners in the fifth inning after back-to-back two-out infield singles by Thorpe and Lexi Rau. In the seventh inning, Ansbro led off with a double but was called out for interference after making contact with Gordon at shortstop on Mantz’s grounder.

Friday marked Central’s first shutout loss this season.

“I think it was good for us to learn something and kind of give us a reality check, just let us know where we are,” Ansbro said of the loss. “We’re gonna see tougher competition like this and we’ve really gotta be on our toes and on our best game.”

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