POCA — With sectional tournament play beginning in less than two weeks, Poca softball coach David Skeens might have found the formula to give the Dots some momentum into the postseason.
Freshman pitcher Jasmine Luikart shook off a two-run deficit after one inning Thursday, and held Class A No. 4 Sherman at bay for three more innings before she gave way for sophomore pitcher Tori Ward to pick up a three-inning save as the Dots topped the Tide 3-2 at Poca High School.
“Once we got ahead we wanted to change the speeds and bring Tori in,” Skeens said. “She throws a lot harder than Jasmine does, so we wanted to look at something different once they got used to seeing Jasmine.”
It was the second win for Poca in three games since Skeens first employed the tactic against Class AAA Point Pleasant in a 5-4 win on Monday. The win over Sherman (14-9) inched the Dots closer to the .500 mark at 10-11, with four games remaining on the team’s regular season schedule.
Poca has won five of its last seven, and took the lead in the bottom of the fourth when No. 9 hitter Haley Wagner singled to left to score Bre Bias, who had led off the inning with a double. One batter later, Casey Skeens gave Poca the lead with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Lindsey Triplett.
As soon as the Dots had the lead, Ward entered and held Sherman in check for most of the way to the final out. The biggest threat the sophomore faced came with two outs in the fifth, when Sherman senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Baylee Harless drove an 0-1 pitch into center field. Poca’s Natalie Parkins bobbled the ball while trying to recover it from near the center field fence, and the cutoff throw made in attempt to stop Harless at third sailed wide of the bag.
However, Sherman coach Jim Henderson urged Harless to make for home before he saw that Ward had properly backed up the cutoff. Harless was hung up off third, and called out when she stepped out of the base line to avoid a tag from third baseman Summer Randolph.
“I took us out of an inning there when the girl came over and backed a play up,” Henderson said. “I’m not seeing her come in behind me. You never know what’s going to end up happening there, because that ended up being the third out of the inning.”
Hits were at a premium in the game, as Poca’s pitching duo and Sherman junior Kylie Wells held their opponents off balance. Sherman outhit the Dots 5-4.
Luikart, one of six freshmen in Poca’s starting lineup, said the split of innings with Ward has provided a spark for the team and is a welcome strategy.
“I’m fine with anything as long our team gets what it needs,” she said. “Taking me out, it gives the batters a different pitching speed, which will throw them off.
“I’ll do whatever my coach needs me to do. I’m willing. I’m up for anything,” Luikart said.
Luikart struck out three and walked one while giving up three hits in four innings. Wells had five strikeouts and three walks, giving up two earned runs in picking up the loss.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.