St. Albans' Kacie Hickman (left) looks to the umpire after being tagged out at first base by Nitro's Chelsie Hall.
St. Albans put a frustrating week behind it Wednesday.Ali Haynes fired a five-hit shutout and drove in all three runs as the host Red Dragons blanked Nitro 3-0 in the opener of the Class AAA Region 4 Section 1 double-elimination tournament, then SA pounded its way to a 12-4 five-inning mercy-rule victory over the Wildcats in the nightcap to sweep to the championship. A crowd of about 50 attended the cross-river rivalry showdown.SA (23-5), which was third in the final state coaches association rankings, advances to next week's regional semifinals and will take on the Parkersburg-Parkersburg South-Ripley winner.The Red Dragons ended a three-game losing streak, which included an 8-6 loss to Hurricane in the Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament title game. The Redskins then shut out SA 3-0 Saturday in a regular-season matchup, and the Red Dragons fell 3-2 in eight innings at Boyd County (Ky.) on Monday."We got better,'' said SA senior shortstop Rachel Hickman, who went 4-for-6 with three RBIs, four runs scored and two stolen bases in Wednesday's doubleheader. "Just keep building and building and we'll get there, and I think tonight we finally got there."The first game was a little rocky and we pulled through and did what we had to do. The second game our defense and offense was all there. In the second game I felt the energy of the rivalry. I think we're back to where we should be. I feel pretty good.''SA's Haynes, who is battling through a wrist injury, was in control in the first game. She stranded 10 runners, struck out three and walked three. Haynes, who finished with a double and five RBIs, knocked in all three runs."It's feeling good,'' said Haynes of her injury. "There's a little discomfort, but it's mind over matter. I've got to get through it to help my team out.'' SA resembled the team it has been for most of the season in the second game, rapping out 11 hits and forcing an early end to the contest. The Red Dragons sent 27 batters to the plate and scored all 12 of their runs in the second through fourth innings.
Hickman's two-out, three-run double put the Red Dragons ahead for good at 3-0 in the top of the second. Hickman then scored on a wild pitch for a 4-0 edge.Nitro (8-16) put some pressure on SA as Haynes was tiring, plating two runs in the bottom of the second to slice its deficit to 4-2. The Wildcats' Amber Hughes singled in a run and Chelsea Terwilliger knocked in a run with a groundout.SA tacked on two more runs in the third on No. 8 hitter Whitney Jones' RBI bunt single and Haynes' bases-loaded walk. Nitro closed to 6-4 in the bottom of the third on Halie Miller's run-scoring single and an error. The Red Dragons busted the game open with six runs in the fourth for a 12-4 lead.SA's Haili McCown, the No. 7 hitter, went 3-for-4, knocked in a run and scored three times and Jones finished with two hits and an RBI. SA's Kasey Hickman and Madi Marshall each went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Haynes battled through the second game, allowing three earned runs on four hits in five innings with four strikeouts and three walks."It was a good step,'' said SA coach Greg Garber, whose team committed seven errors during the MSAC tournament but only two Wednesday. "We started hitting the ball again. Our last few games we've been cleaning up the defense. If we had a mistake we came back and made the next [play].'' Nitro's Hughes allowed one earned run on five hits in six innings with two strikeouts and no walks in the opener and Morgan Hedrick tripled. In the nightcap, Hughes went 2-for-2 with a double.
"The first game we just shot ourselves in the foot,'' said Nitro assistant coach Steve Young. "We got kids on base and couldn't get them in."In the second game, we just let it slip away from us. I think the girls were emotionally drained. In the past we haven't made them earn it. The last couple of years they've mercy-ruled us both games.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com