SALEM — Warren County couldn’t come up with the big hits it needed against lefty ace Millie Thompson of Liberty, falling 5-1 to the Minettes in the Class 3 state semifinals at Moyer Complex in Salem.
The loss ends the Wildcats season at 21-3. Liberty will face Turner Ashby in the finals. The Knights defeated Skyline 11-0 in the other Class 3 semifinal.
“They left it all on the field,” said Warren County coach Ted McDaniel. “In my 19 years of coaching, I’ve never been so proud of a team.”
Liberty, which advanced to the state semifinals last year and will also be making its first state championship game appearance, jumped on the Wildcats and senior pitcher Elizabeth Keener in the bottom of the first for three runs.
Lead-off hitter Taylor Ariees started the inning for Liberty (22-6) with a single to left-center off a 3-2 pitch.
After a fielder’s choice put Riley Taylor on first, Keener struck out Kacey Whorley for the second out. But Liberty then strung together four consecutive hits to put the Lady Cats in a 3-0 hole.
“We came out tight in the first inning,” McDaniel. “We couldn’t make the big play.”
Two of the Minettes’ hits were infield singles.
“My location was a little off in the first,” Keener said. “They are a really good team, and we just didn’t get the big hit at the right time.”
Meanwhile, the Wildcats had little success against Thompson, a junior who has already committed to play for Clemson.
Thompson sandwiched three strikeouts in the first inning around Hailey Stiltner’s one out opposite field single to left.
Savannah Haffer singled for the Wildcats in the second with two outs and advanced to second on a wild pitch, as did Stiltner in the first inning,
Again, the Wildcats couldn’t get the big hit with two outs against Thompson.
Warren finally broke through in the third as Ramsey Young started the inning with a single to right.
Morgan Coons followed with a walk, and Stiltner executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move both runners over the base.
Jayda Saulsbury’s grounder to third allowed Young to score. But Coons was left stranded at second as Keener popped out to second.
Liberty tacked on two big insurance runs in the fifth as Gracie Dooley and Thompson delivered back-to-back RBI hits with two outs.
All five of Liberty’s runs came against the Wildcats with two outs.
“We settled down a little after the first inning,” Keener said. “But, yes, they are a good hitting team.”
Warren threatened in the fourth as Alegend Baltimore-Lance produced a one out single, but Thompson struck out Haffer and retired freshman
Karleigh Crabill on a hard shot back at the mound.
After that the Wildcats retired in order the final three innings by Thompson.
The junior pitcher allowed just four hits, struck out 10 batters and allowed just one walk.
Keener allowed eight hits and struck out four for the Wildcats.
“It hurts, but we are past it now,” Saulsbury said. “We believed we could have made it the finals, but we started slow.”
Warren County will graduate four seniors (Haffer, Keener, Coons, Saulsbury) but will return a good nucleus of talent, plus several members from their JV team that lost just three games this year as well.
“We have come a long way, from 9-19 to 21-3, and we want to come back,” McDaniel said. “It’s hard to lose, but we knew what we were up against; we knew they were good. We did everything we could but we came up a bit short.”