MAN — Morgan Cooper has been a workhorse for the Man High School softball team this season, pitching every inning of every game for the Hillbillies.
That continued on Tuesday night as the sophomore hurler pitched a one-hitter in leading Man to a 3-0 victory over Buffalo to clinch the Class A Region 4 Section 1 championship at Man High School.
Man (18-2) moved into next week’s best-of-three Region 4 tournament, where the Billies will square off with undefeated Wahama (22-0), which won the Section 2 title on Monday with a 10-1 victory over Ravenswood.
Cooper, a first-year varsity player who did not play last season as a freshman when the entire 2020 campaign was wiped out, upped her record to 18-2.
Cooper faced just one batter over the minimum and flirted with a perfect game, striking out 14 and walking none and retiring the first 13 batters she faced.
She has logged 117 innings this season, striking out 250 and sporting a 0.36 ERA. Opponents are batting just .095 against her this spring. Cooper is also leading Man at the plate with a .491 batting average with five home runs and 16 RBI.
Cooper was 2 for 3 with a two doubles. Bailey Muncy also had a pair of hits for Man.
The Billies plated all three of their runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Cooper led off with a double to right-center and later scored on a Buffalo error. Ashlee Tomblin later smashed a two-run double down the right-field line.
It was all Man would need.
“We had three runs and should have had four but that was it,” Man coach Randy Epperly said. “We thought the game was over for whatever reason and you cannot do that. We were able to get by because we have a good pitcher that was able to keep them at bay. You can’t do this in sectional or regional play. That will catch up to us.”
Alex Hill pitched well for Buffalo but was tagged with the loss. She allowed three unearned runs on six hits with two strikeouts and two walks.
Rachael Affolter was Buffalo’s only baserunner as she doubled to left field with one out in the fifth. Cooper retired the last eight batters she faced to close out the win.
Buffalo, which advanced to the finals with Monday’s 6-4 win at top seed Sherman in an elimination game, saw its season come to a close at 14-12. The fourth-seeded Bison survived elimination on Saturday with a 7-4 win at Tug Valley.
“We were able to battle back, beating Tug on the road then beating Sherman. [Monday] night’s win at Sherman was a big one for us. We hadn’t beaten Sherman in a long time,” Buffalo coach Bill Rasnake said. “We were out with COVID for two weeks and that hurt us. We were finally able to get back into the swing of things.”
Rasnake said Cooper was very tough.
“That’s a good pitcher,” he said. “That’s probably the second-best pitcher that I’ve seen all year. We play a lot of Triple-A teams. I’ll give her the credit. We were not able to get many bunts down to put the pressure on them.”
With no seniors on the team, Buffalo expects to be right in the thick of things next season.
The Bison return catcher Abby Darnley, a Marshall commit, who led the team with a .607 batting average this season. Katie Darnley, Buffalo’s shortstop, also will be coming back. She hit .507.
“I have 11 freshmen, and both of my pitchers are freshmen. The future looks good for Buffalo softball,” Rasnake said.
Man won its first sectional crown since 2016. That was also the last time the Billies made it to the Class A state tournament.
Man has won 18 of its last 19 games after a season-opening loss to Westside.
Wahama will be a formidable foe for Man in the regionals. The White Falcons have surrendered just 21 runs all season and have 13 shutout wins.
The regional series is set to be played Monday through Wednesday and the White Falcons have home-field advantage.
Game 1 is set for Monday at Wahama. Game 2 is slated for Tuesday at Man and Game 3, if necessary, would go back to Wahama on Wednesday.