A teary-eyed Ed West stood on the first-base line Thursday moments after John Marshall had secured the Class AAA softball title with a 6-2 win over Cabell Midland.
The Monarchs, after falling to the Knights in the first of two championship games, did enough in the second game to avoid letting the championship slip out of reach, sparked by a first-inning home run and sealed with a three-run fourth frame that put Cabell Midland in a tight spot.
“I knew it’d be a battle, but the girls stepped up,” West said. “We were in a better position pitching-wise because they had to play earlier today, but I thought our pitcher did a great job, our defense played well and that was enough to win the game.”
The Monarchs’ Kadence Petitt struck out nine and allowed just four hits in the win. After the Knights tied the game at 2-2 in the third on Olivia Bell’s two-out bases-loaded single, Petitt allowed just two more base runners, one on a single and the last on a hit batsman.
For Cabell Midland, freshman hurler Drea Watts had thrown in each of the Knights’ first four games and had pitched 11 innings already on Thursday as Cabell Midland worked its way through the losers bracket.
With a limit of 14 innings per day, she was pulled early in the first final and saved for relief work in the second game. By the time she entered in the fourth inning, the Knights trailed by four.
In her place, Haley Vaughan held her ground and gave the Monarchs fits as they adjusted to her pitching style, which comes with a much slower delivery than Watts’.
“Killed us for a while,” West said. “We had to really adjust, and after a couple of innings we settled down and were able to get a few hits. Still didn’t crush the ball, but we got hits that brought runs in.”
Ava Blake did the most damage against Vaughan, ripping a bases-loaded triple that plated three runs in the sixth inning of the first final and then blasting a solo home run to left field in the first inning of the winner-take-all game.
That didn’t diminish what the senior Vaughan was able to accomplish in her final high school game.
“I’m so proud of Haley. I’ve coached her for years, and she’s like one of my daughters. She came and did her job and did exactly what we needed her to do,” Cabell Midland assistant coach Jason Harris said, standing in for the postgame interview at coach Herman Beckett’s request. “It just didn’t end up going our way.”
The dagger came in the form of a two-run double from Paytyn Tucker, which extended a 4-2 lead to 6-2 without an out in the fourth frame. She was the last batter Vaughn faced.
When Watts entered in the fourth inning, she did so with three eligible innings left, used all three and didn’t allow a hit to John Marshall, which had two base runners against the freshman, on a hit-by-pitch and walk.
The freshman struck out 23 batters in 28 innings pitched across two days at the state tournament, making her an easy decision for the Class AAA All-Tournament Team.
“These girls right here fought with every ounce, in every way and every time we asked them to,” Harris said. “I love them all. They gave everything they had, whether they were in the game or not they did their job.”
To reach its second title game in three years, Cabell Midland defeated George Washington 6-3 Thursday morning, then took the first final off John Marshall, 5-3.
The Knights were a win away from their second title since 2021, but the Monarchs’ championship makes them the fourth Class AAA school to win a state title in as many seasons, following in the footsteps of Hurricane (2019), Cabell Midland (2021) and Jefferson (2023). There was no tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Championship Game 1
Cabell Midland 5, John Marshall 3: To force the winner-take-all final, the Knights got the ball rolling early against the Monarchs to grab their second elimination game win of the day after defeating George Washington in the morning session.
Becca Conrad and KK Wallis each drove in runs to give Cabell Midland a 2-0 lead after the first inning. Wallis’ RBI triple — her third of the tournament — pushed that lead to 3-0 in the third.
Sabrina Rose, who logged a single and a double in the win over the Monarchs, used the latter of those to drive in two more runs, giving Midland a 5-0 lead after four innings.
That cushion was enough for Beckett to pull Watts to keep her eligible to pitch in the final.
In relief, Vaughan finished out the game and gave up three runs on a bases-clearing triple from Marshall commit Blake. After digging a five-run hole, John Marshall pitcher Kadence Petitt faced the minimum over the final three innings of play. She struck out five.