By DEREK TAYLOR
Daily mail preps editor
VIENNA, W.Va. — It was every hitter’s fantasy scenario, and Kanawha Valley Player of the Year Allison Rager wasn’t about to let it go by.
After Herbert Hoover tied the Class AA softball state championship game against Ritchie County in the bottom of the sixth inning Thursday, Rebels coach Dave Mossor opted to intentionally walk Rager to load the bases with one out.
Something went awry in the execution of that plan. Rebels All-State pitcher Moie Ray got to a 2-0 count on Rager, but then lofted her third pitch right over the middle of the plate while Ritchie catcher Abbie Burgess stood awaiting a pitch outside.
Rager jumped on the pitch, driving it to left-center field for her third double of the game, scoring freshman Kelsey Naylor and senior Mikayla Craze to put Hoover back in front as part of an eight-run inning that led to the Huskies (32-6) claiming their first state championship in the sport with a 12-6 win.
“I was all the way up on the plate and I didn’t want to get walked. I was going to take whatever for my team but they pitched me something to hit,” Rager said. “So I just drove it.”
The inning saw the proverbial wheels come off Ritchie’s push to force a winner-take-all second game of the championship round. Hoover had beaten the Rebels 8-2 earlier in the day in a winner’s bracket game. Ritchie (27-7) returned to the championship round by eliminating Petersburg.
But after Rager had dominated her first two pitching appearances by racking up 25 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched while allowing just one earned run, the junior had to rely on her offense more to give Hoover the crown. She doubled to lead off the bottom of the first and eventually scored to give Hoover a 1-0 lead, but Ritchie went up 3-1 in the third thanks to a Hoover error, a double by sophomore All-State utility player Kenna DeLancy and a two-run single by Ray.
Playing from behind was something that Hoover had hoped to avoid in the championship round. Rager had just eight innings available to pitch before the Huskies would be forced to turn to freshman Dallani Fix in a Game 2 scenario.
“We feel that Allison’s our best pitcher. I believe we still would have gotten it done if it went to the next game but I’m glad it didn’t,” Hoover coach Missy Smith said. “It’s getting hotter and everybody’s getting tired. We’re tired and just glad we finished it off.”
The game was tied 3-3 when Ritchie took a two-run lead in the fifth as the result of a two-run homer by DeLancy. Hoover got a run back in the bottom of the inning, however, as the Rebels committed three errors and Rager scored off Ray, who had relieved DeLancy to start the inning.
When the bottom of the sixth began, Mossor said his team had run out of gas mentally and physically.
“I’ve been there and done that, and we hit a wall,” Mossor said. “Everything went wrong. We played errorless ball all the way up and ‘bang,’ we had four that inning.”
Zoey Carte led off the sixth with a single. Naylor followed with a fielder’s choice that failed to retire Carte at second because of a throwing error. Craze then hit an RBI single that set the stage for Rager.
The floodgates had opened.
Kati Angle followed Rager with another base hit and Ashleigh Tignor reached on another fielder’s choice that failed to record an out. McKenzie Edmonds then drew a walk before Madison Bowles got on thanks to another error. With the bases loaded, Carte — the inning’s 10th batter — drew a walk that brought in another run.
Naylor then followed with a flyout to right, but the throw back in to the infield sailed wide of first base and allowed Bowles to score the inning’s eighth run.
The only Hoover player not to score in the inning was No. 9 hitter Caroline Thornburg, who had set the stage for Rager’s heroics with a sacrifice bunt that moved Naylor and Craze up a base each.
“That’s the way you want it to be,” Smith said of the team-wide effort.
“It’s the last game. It’s not going any farther. When it’s your last game and it’s your last at-bat of the season or your career you want to get it done,” Smith said.
Rager was 3 for 4 with three doubles and two RBI, while Angle and Craze were each 2 for 4 with an RBI. DeLancy ended a stellar week at the plate with her second homer of the tournament and a 3-for-4 showing and three RBI.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170.