FRONT ROYAL — Warren County softball coach Ted McDaniel has been around the sport long enough to know that a good pitcher can do wonders for a team.
The Wildcats have such a pitcher in senior right-hander Elizabeth Keener, and McDaniel said after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Brentsville that she’s been the key to a winning streak that stretched to six with the victory.
“I’ve been around this game 19 years now and I can tell you, what you put in that circle right there means all the difference in the world,” said McDaniel, whose Wildcat squad was without Keener’s services for most of the previous two seasons as she battled shoulder problems. “When you’ve got a pitcher that can shut other teams down, you don’t have to score a whole lot of runs to win. Now we’ve been scoring runs this year but tonight we didn’t do squat offensively. Got just enough to win, which is what it takes.”
Keener was key again against Brentsville in the Wildcats’ Class 3 Northwestern District opener. As has been the case most of the season, the senior went the distance against the Tigers, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out nine over seven innings.
Keener is 7-0 in the circle with a 2.09 ERA, 65 strikeouts and just six walks in 47 innings pitched this season.
“It was amazing,” Wildcats senior shortstop Jayda Saulsbury said of Keener’s latest outing. “I’m always talking her up behind her, trying to get her fired up. It’s really easy to our job out here when she’s doing that amazing out there.
“She’s one of the driving forces behind us. We know she’s one of our better players, and when she’s doing good we’re all excited for her, so we get excited. It’s just like a chain effect.”
Keener pounded the strike zone against Brentsville, throwing 77 of her 98 pitches for strikes and dealing first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 27 batters she faced.
She carried a shutout into the sixth inning, losing it only when a throwing error on Celine Jenkins’ bunt single allowed the Brentsville freshman to circle the bases and score on a close play at the plate. Three of the five hits the Tigers had against Keener came in the sixth, with Mara Brooks’ RBI double pushing a second run across with two outs in the inning.
“It was all right. I feel like I could’ve definitely done better but we still got the W, so I’m pretty pleased,” said Keener, who had seven strikeouts through the first three innings.
“I think all my pitches except my changeup — my changeup was a little off, but everything else, I was hitting my locations, so I felt pretty confident.”
Keener’s effort was a gift for a Warren County offense that struggled to produce after having some early success against Tigers sophomore pitcher Rachel Bush.
The Wildcats struck for a pair of runs in each of the first four innings but had just three hits over their last four offensive half-innings.
“I’ll take a sloppy win over a great-played loss any day,” McDaniel said. “I don’t know, we were just a little bit lackadaisical today and we just weren’t really focused. I don’t know what was the reason, sometimes you just get like that. But when we had to make a play and had to get a hit and Elizabeth had to make a pitch, she did.”
A pair of errors on Karleigh Crabill’s fly ball to left helped Warren County score the game’s first run of the night after Saulsbury drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first inning, and Crabill scored on a wild pitch on Bush’s next offering for a 2-0 lead.
Ramsey Young’s RBI sacrifice fly, set up by Hailey Stiltner’s one-out double and a single by Chase Roltsch, added another run in the second inning. Brentsville’s third error of the night on Saulsbury’s sharp single to right allowed Warren County’s fourth run to score.
Things quieted down after that for the Wildcats, who squared up a couple of balls in the first inning that turned into line-drive outs. They stranded six baserunners in the win, including three in the fifth inning.
“I think we got a little too anxious to hit it because we were doing so well,” said Saulsbury, whose RBI groundout gave Warren County a 5-0 lead in the fourth, “so we just got a little anxious and swung our bats a little too early and didn’t make adjustments on our (part) to hit a slower pitcher.”
Regardless, it was a win in the district opener for Warren County, one that the Wildcats hope sets the stage for more success in the league.
“I think it’s real important because we’re all really excited now,” Saulsbury said of the win. “We know what we have, and it wasn’t the prettiest and we still won, so we can only build on that and keep up the momentum.”