FRONT ROYAL —It’s something that the Warren County Wildcats have done all season long.
When needed, someone always steps up.
That was again the case in the Lady Wildcats 4-0 win over Park View (South Hill) in the opening round of the Class 3 state softball tournament.
Senior Elizabeth Keener was her usual reliable self, scattering four hits with one walk to keep the Dragons off the scoreboard.
With fellow senior and starting center fielder Sabrina Perea on vacation, freshman Karleigh Crabill stepped into the lineup and delivered a pair of hits and a walk to help lead the Wildcats offense.
“Someone always steps up,” Warren County coach Ted McDaniel said. “This team has been doing it all year.”
Crabill doubled to the left center field fence in the Wildcats three-run fourth inning that helped break open a taught one-run game.
Crabill walked in the second and then singled in the sixth for Warren County.
“She’s an amazing player,” McDaniel said. “For a freshman, and she’s so young, she’s just 14 years old. Our regular center-fielder is in the Bahamas and she just stepped in for us.”
Crabill’s production was huge for the Wildcats, especially coming from the No. 9 spot in the order.
“It’s difficult, the pressure and being a freshman,” Crabill said. “I just go out there and try to block out everything, except (teammate) senior Savannah Haffer; we grew up with her. We just want to keep winning for the seniors. Saying I was part of it will be a good story to tell one day.”
The trip to the state final four is the Wildcats first since their back-to-back state championship days in the mid-80s.
The Wildcats will play Liberty-Bedford at 1 p.m. Friday at Moyers Field in Salem.
“This is huge,” Keener said. “I couldn’t be more excited. It kind of blows my mind. One more game and we are in the state championship game.”
Warren (21-2) broke out on top in the bottom of the first inning as Morgan Coons started things off with a lead-off walk.
Hailey Stiltner then lifted an opposite field single to left to put runners at first and third.
Senior Jayda Saulsbury connected on a drive to deep left that skipped to the fence to score Coons for a 1-0 lead.
“It was really important to get out on top so we didn’t have to come from behind,” Saulsbury said. “It relaxes us a bit. We came in a little nervous, we didn’t want to blow it. We hadn’t lost a game at home all year and we really wanted to go to Salem.”
Warren missed a golden opportunity to add to the lead as Dragons pitcher Emma Wolfe got out of the jam by getting Keener and Alegend Baltimore-Lane to pop out to short.
Warren escaped a jam in the top of the first as well as Carson Wall led off with a single. One out later, an infield error put runners at first and second but Keener retired the next two batters on a fly out to center and a grounder to second.
The Wildcats scored three big runs in the fourth as the each ball put in play seemed to find a hole.
With one out, Haffer drilled a line shot double over left fielder Dee Dee Cliborne’s head.
After Arianna Whited struck out No. 8 hitter, Ramsey Young blooped a single just over the Park View second baseman’s head and in front of the right fielder.
Haffer scored on the play for a two-run Warren County lead.
Crabill followed with a shot past short that went all the way to the fence in left-center to score Young.
Coons then singled in Crabill with a single past the Park View second baseman.
“You gotta pitch, hit and play good defense,” McDaniel said. “That’s what you need at this level. You can’t let up and you can’t slack off. You have to keep the intensity up. They did it all year and I’m so proud of them.”
Warren made just one error and made several key defensive plays behind Keener.
Baltimore-Lane made a nice running catch in left field in the top of the third with one out and a Park View runner aboard.
In the fifth, Coons made a nice play on a hard hit ball to second – tagging out the Park View runner and spinning around to nail the runner at first for a key double play.
Keener, who has been battling fatigue in her pitching shoulder for most of the second half of the season, finished out the game for the Wildcats, preserving the shutout in the seventh after a double and single put runners on the corner with two outs.
Keener got Cliborne on a ground out to short to end the game.
“I felt pretty good,” Keener said with a wry smile. “My mindset was this was the last home game that I will every play, and we had a chance to go to Salem.”
McDaniel admitted that Keener said she was tired after the fourth inning, but he knew it would be her decision to stay in the game or not.
“What can you say about her,” McDaniel said. “She’s a bulldog, a junkyard dog. She was wearing down but she kept fighting. I knew she would come out.”
If Warren wins Friday, the Wildcats would play the winner of the Skyline and Turner Ashby game on Saturday.
Skyline defeated New Kent 4-0 on Tuesday to also advance to the final four.
“It’s very special,” McDaniel said. “There are four teams left in the state tournament and two of them are from good old Front Royal. It shows you what kind of softball we have around here. I couldn’t be happier.”