Midland hands SA softball its first loss
ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- St. Albans and Cabell Midland had a lot in common going into Friday night's showdown.
Both teams are relatively young - St. Albans has two seniors, Cabell Midland has three - and both sported impressive records.
What the young Knights had that the Red Dragons didn't was experience in dealing with adversity, so when Midland jumped on top, St. Albans just couldn't find any answers.
Cabell Midland scored early with two runs in the first inning, often by scoring in four of seven innings and, most importantly, the Knights scored enough to register a 7-2 win in St. Albans.
It was the first loss of the season for the Red Dragons (12-1), and coach Greg Garber admitted that the early pressure from the Knights might have rattled his squad.
"I thought they put pressure on my defense," Garber said. "My youngsters sort of came back a little bit and got tight there.
"We made too many mistakes. I'd like to think that's because of our youth, but that's no excuse. You've still got to do it no matter how old you are."
Mandi King hit a one-out single to right field and Morgan Kelley tripled her in two batters later, then scored after the relay was thrown over the fence to deliver the first big blow for Midland.
While Knights leadoff hitter Morgan Zerkle struck out to start the game, she atoned for that at-bat afterward. She drove in Alyssa Koontz with a two-out infield single in the second to stretch the lead to 3-0, singled and scored a run in the fifth inning, and hit a screaming ground ball to the wall in center field in the seventh inning that she turned into an inside-the-park home run.
All of this came in support of pitcher Abbie Tolbert, who kept the Red Dragons on their heels and off the scoreboard until St. Albans finally broke through in the bottom of the seventh inning on a two-run single by Whitney Jones.
But St. Albans' late rally turned out to be much too little, much too late.
"We have three pitchers and they're all working hard but that's probably the best pitching performance we've had this year so far," Cabell Midland coach Jeanne Lunsford said. "For all three of them it's looking up, it's getting better, and Abbie did a fabulous job for us."
Tolbert struck out seven and walked just one.
The only loss for Midland (8-1) was a 9-7 decision at Lincoln County on March 4. The Knights avenged that loss on Wednesday with an emphatic 13-3 home win over the Panthers and, after taking out another Class AAA contender on Friday, seem to be rolling.
"We just want to play and we want to play to get better," Lunsford said. "By the end of the season I hope we can bring home that state championship. We've been striving for it for a while now. This group of girls works hard and they want it for the whole team.
"All of these are practice games until tournament time."
As Midland has bounced back from its only setback, Garber is hoping to lead his squad to a similar run looking forward.
"I think a lot of it starts with those older players," Garber said. "I heard them still encouraging [late in the game]. They're showing them, 'Hey, tomorrow is a new day and we've got a tough game tomorrow.' When you're playing in the MSAC you've got a lot of tough games.
"The key will be the confidence factor. A team that's 12-1 shouldn't have any problem with confidence but when you have youngsters - today, you could see where my experience was."
King added an RBI double in the fifth for Cabell Midland while Jordan Colliflower went 2 for 3.
Breanna Pauley doubled for the Red Dragons.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, email@example.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.