HAMLIN — Region 4 in Class AAA is packed with loaded teams and fraught with pitfalls.
Hurricane (23-5), the defending state champion and No. 2 in the final state poll, had fallen into a rut during last week’s Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament and sank even deeper during the Region 4 Section 3 double-elimination tournament.
Senior pitcher Brooke West fired a four-hit shutout and sophomore Sarah Barrett drove in the only run in the bottom of the sixth inning as Lincoln County squeezed past the Redskins 1-0 to take the section championship. A crowd of about 300 attended the matchup of state-ranked teams at Lincoln County High School. The No. 6 Panthers plated three runs in the top of the seventh Tuesday to earn a 3-1 victory over Hurricane in the opener.
The Panthers (24-8), whose only state title came in 2011, advances to next week’s regional semifinals and will play at the winner of Section 4, which features No. 3 Cabell Midland, Huntington and No. 7 Spring Valley.
West’s two-out single in the sixth inning, Lincoln County’s first since her single in the first, set up Barrett’s heroics. Barrett, who has adopted a slap-hitting approach this season, lined a first-pitch double over the head of Hurricane left fielder Amber Null, allowing Panthers freshman courtesy runner Alyssa Adkins to score from first base for a 1-0 lead.
“I knew I couldn’t slap because I didn’t want a double play to happen, so I knew I had to hit and [Hurricane] was playing up on me,’’ said Barrett, who was 0 for 1 with a sacrifice before the big hit.
“If I could get a hit right over top of their heads I knew something would happen. I was ready for anything. I’m very confident when I come to the plate. I just know when Brooke starts [hitting] we all start. It’s time to go.’’
Junior Emily Davis’ one-out single in the top of the seventh gave the Redskins hope, but West quickly squashed that as she forced freshman Katie Adams to ground out, then induced sophomore Abigail Osborne to ground out with a runner on second to end the suspense.
Hurricane missed an opportunity in the fourth with runners on first and second and two out when Davis’ sharp grounder near the first-base bag hit sophomore Maddie Hebb as she was heading to second to end the inning.
The Redskins also wasted an opportunity in the third when Davis and Osborne singled to put runners on first and second with one out. Junior Madi Casto’s grounder led to the second out and West fanned junior Cassie Sargent looking.
“That gets down the right-field line and we score two there,’’ said Hurricane coach Josh Caldwell of Davis’ grounder in the fourth. “Last night Courtney [Rogers] hits the ball with two on [second and third] and the right fielder makes a play in the gap. I’ve never seen anything like it. It wasn’t meant to be I guess. We had chances and plenty of opportunities with runners in scoring position. We just didn’t get the hits.’’
West, who went 2 for 3, surrendered just four hits with four punchouts and one walk. She only needed 73 pitches in the complete-game effort and also tied the school record for wins with her 61st.
“This is one of our biggest games that we’ve ever had,’’ said West, who was eliminated by Hurricane in three games in last year’s sectional tournament. “We overcame this very difficult team. It’s an amazing feeling.’’
The Redskins’ top five hitters went 0 for 13 with Rogers, last year’s state player of the year, going 0 for 1 with a walk and hit-by-pitch in the cleanup spot.
Rogers, though, turned in one of her best outings in the circle, allowing just one earned run on three hits with three strikeouts and no walks. After West’s single in the first, Rogers blanked Lincoln County for six innings and set down 14 straight until the fateful sixth.
Hurricane ended the year on a four-game losing streak after having won 11 in a row. The Redskins dropped a 6-3 decision to Midland, a team which it beat 13-1 in four innings a few days earlier, in the semifinals of the MSAC Tournament last week, then lost 6-4 to Ripley in 10 innings in the consolation.
“I can’t explain it,’’ said Caldwell. “The bats cooled off at a bad time.’’
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.