Rogers leads Hurricane into MSAC softball title game
HURRICANE, W.Va. - Courtney Rogers wasn't about to give in now.
The sophomore surrendered four hits and struck out 10, then powered the offense with a solo home run and a run-scoring single to send Hurricane past South Charleston 5-1 Tuesday in the semifinals of the Mountain State Athletic Conference Tournament. A crowd of about 200 attended the matchup at Hurricane High School.
Top-seeded Hurricane (25-4), the defending MSAC champion, will take on No. 2 Cabell Midland today, 30 minutes after the conclusion of the consolation game, which starts at 5:30 p.m. at Hurricane High. Midland downed No. 3 Ripley 5-1 in the semis earlier Tuesday evening.
The Redskins have come a long way since winning their first MSAC championship last year as the fourth-seeded team. Hurricane, which set a school record for wins last year and is poised to break it again this year, was third in this week's state sportswriters' poll and earned the top seed and the right to host the MSAC tourney.
"It means everything because people think they can beat us and want to beat us,'' said Rogers of advancing to the title game. "Everyone wanted to win so we could play [today]. It's helping us that everyone's hitting.''
Rogers gave the Redskins the lead for good in the bottom of the second with a solo shot that landed over a small knoll and into a bed of flowers near the sidewalk adjacent to the baseball field for a 1-0 edge.
After a shaky first inning in which she put SC runners on second and third with one out before fanning the next two batters, Rogers set down 11 straight Black Eagles from the second inning through the fifth.
"When she's solid on the mound it seems it carries over offensively,'' said Hurricane coach Josh Caldwell. "The first couple of innings she kept us in the game, then got us on the board and that was huge. She's batting cleanup, a huge run producer, seven home runs. When we need a big hit, for the most part she usually delivers. She's been huge for us, no doubt.''
Redskins leadoff hitter Madison Casto, who walked, stole second and took third on a passed ball, scored on a balk in the third for a 2-0 advantage.
In the fifth, Cassi Sargent doubled in a run and Rogers followed with a laser off the center-field fence to knock in another as the Redskins went ahead 4-0. Rogers' single bounced off the wall so hard that it limited her to just one bag. Hurricane tacked on another run on an error for a 5-0 advantage. Meredith Cain, who singled, scored on an error in the sixth as SC closed to 5-1.
The fourth-seeded Black Eagles (16-9) applied some pressure in the bottom of the seventh, just as they did in the first meeting with Hurricane during the regular season, when SC plated two runs in the final frame before falling 5-4 on March 22.
Olivia Orcutt reached on an error and Aaliyah Phillips singled with one out Tuesday. Black Eagles designated hitter Bailey Bennett sent a rocket to center field, but Hurricane's Nicole Pierson made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch on the run to keep the runners from advancing. Rogers than registered her 10th strikeout to end the game.
"Our energy was there and our effort level was there,'' said SC coach Bobby Catlett, who starts five freshmen. "I thought we played as good as we could. We made it interesting at the end. [Hurricane is] very tough. You've got to play perfect and have some luck.''
SC starter Alli Burdette gave up five runs (three earned) on five hits in six innings with six strikeouts and three walks. The Black Eagles' Phillips finished 2 for 3 with a double.
Hurricane and Midland, which is also No. 2 in the state poll, split during the regular season with the Redskins, winning 15-13 at home then falling to the Knights 9-8 in the semis of the Best of the Best Softball Classic.
"I feel like our teams are so evenly matched, great hitters throughout the lineup,'' said Caldwell, whose squad won the MSAC tourney on Midland's field last year. "[Our players] want to win it on their home field. They're hungry to win it again.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.