Back-to-back for Bison
VIENNA - It was an historic Thursday afternoon for Buffalo.
Sophomore Chelsey Parkins and freshman Ali Burdette surrendered just a pair of singles and the top-ranked Bison's timely hitting overcame six errors in taking a 6-3 victory over No. 2 Moorefield in the Class A state championship game.
A crowd of about 300 mostly clad in distinctive Buffalo yellow, including an exuberant student section who tooted on their vuvuzelas, ringed Field 2 at Jackson Park.
Buffalo (32-7), the defending state champion, repeated as titlist for the first time. The Bison captured championships in 2002 and 2004, but failed to defend them. Overall, Buffalo now has four championships and one runner-up finish in nine appearances at states.
Buffalo seniors Hannah Boyer, Casey Cunningham and Leslie Harris also set the school record for wins by a class, finishing with a 107-37 mark. That broke the four-year record set by the 2001-2004 class of 106-36.
"It's amazing,'' said Harris, who finished 2-for-2 with a triple and two RBIs in the title game and earned all-tournament honors. "It's the greatest feeling ever. It's something you strive for ... it's just awesome. We made it. It was hard work, but it paid off.''
Sophomore starter Parkins yielded just two hits against Moorefield and didn't allow an earned run in 61/3 innings with nine strikeouts and three walks.
Burdette relieved with one out in the seventh inning and loaded the bases after walking her first hitter. After Harris scooped up a slow roller and threw home for the second out, an infield error allowed the Yellow Jackets to score an unearned run to pull within 6-3 and keep the bases loaded.
Burdette then fanned Moorefield sophomore Kelsey Hines on five pitches and the celebration began. Burdette ran toward the dugout, but was mobbed by her teammates before she crossed the first-base line and they piled on top of her.
Parkins and Burdette, who were also all-tournament selections, combined to allow three hits and fan 16 against Moorefield in Wednesday's second game. That time Burdette received her first state tournament start and Parkins relieved, whiffing six of the final seven batters she faced. Parkins also fired a two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts against Fayetteville in Wednesday's opener.
"We just said 'keep your head up,' '' said Harris. "Our pitchers are what keep us up. We rely on them and they rely on us. It's just a team.''
Buffalo jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first, highlighted by Harris' two-out, two-run triple and Boyer's run-scoring single. After that, though, the Bison didn't get another hit until the sixth. Moorefield then closed within 3-2 in the fifth, plating both runs on errors.
"We started off like gangbusters and then we started hitting popups all the time,'' said Buffalo coach Darrell Moore, whose team committed only two errors in postseason play before Thursday. "I started getting worried.
"We were fortunate enough to win and our kids just work hard all the time. They put forth the effort we need to make things happen.''
Buffalo No. 9 sophomore hitter Paige Roush, who committed two errors in right field, made up for her misplays in the sixth, lacing a two-run single. Bison sophomore leadoff hitter Katie Higginbotham, another all-tournament pick, followed with a two-out, two-run single for a 6-2 advantage.
"Paige is a great kid and she's worked hard all year long,'' Moore said. "She's really played great the last 10 or 12 ballgames. She knew she needed a hit, she hadn't had a hit all game, and came through to help us out.''
Moorefield shortstop Beth Cook's mental mistake led to Buffalo's three-run sixth. The sophomore took a groundball and threw to first for the out with runners on first and second, thinking it was the last out of the inning. It was only the second out, which allowed Buffalo's two runners to move up to second and third and eventually score.
Junior Taylor Zuber allowed six earned runs on eight hits with one strikeout and three walks for the Yellow Jackets. Moorefield juniors McKenzie Weese and Michaela Regester each singled. Regester, sophomore Danica Rogers, junior Katelynn Wills and junior Jayme Fraley made the all-tournament team.
The Bison finished the tournament with a 3-0 record and 34 hits. Buffalo had to win three games last year on the final day to claim the championship, including two wins over undefeated Wheeling Central.
Moorefield (34-6) battled back in Thursday morning's elimination round with an 8-6 win over No. 4 St. Marys. The Yellow Jackets had to beat the Bison twice to win the title.
Buffalo has had a target squarely on its back the past two seasons, holding the top ranking in the state coaches association poll since the 2011 preseason.
"That's a lot of pressure on these 15- and 16-year-old kids,'' said Moore, who started three seniors, five sophomores and one freshman.
"They've handled it well and come through a lot of adversity. People don't even know the things that go on, how I worked things around in my lineups the first three or four weeks of the season until we get our team together.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.