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stalbans celebrates

St. Albans softball coach Christian Watts holds up the Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament championship plaque as his players celebrate their 9-1 win over Cabell Midland Saturday at Little Creek Park.

Before St. Albans could go dancing, it had to do a little hunting — trophy hunting, that is.

The Red Dragons picked up the first of what they hope will be several consecutive trophies to end the season as they pounded out nine hits and took advantage of three early Cabell Midland errors in a 9-1, five-inning victory over the Knights in the championship game of the Mountain State Athletic Conference softball tournament Saturday at Little Creek Park.

The win was the 21st in a row to start the season for the Red Dragons, and most of the team’s seniors and juniors didn’t stick around too long to celebrate as St. Albans’ prom was set for Saturday night.

Despite the distractions, the team locked down enough to defeat George Washington 7-1 in a semifinal on Saturday morning and then take care of the Knights. It marked the Red Dragons’ first MSAC softball championship since 2010.

“That’s the most stressful job in the world,” St. Albans coach Christian Watts jokingly said of keeping his players focused on softball on Saturday. “Tonight’s a big night for them and that’s how it is coaching girls, prom is a big night. The message all week was, ‘Guys, if you get out there and do your job, you don’t play any extra ballgames today.’

“It was like once we scored that first run to tie it up, they were like, ‘All right, let’s try to get out of here.’”

The Red Dragons did just that, although they did trail early. Cabell Midland (20-5) struck in the top of the first as Jess Terry led off with a single, advanced to third on two wild pitches and scored on a double by Rielly Lucas.

But St. Albans’ answer was swift and strong as the Red Dragons took advantage of two first-inning errors from Cabell Midland and plated four runs, highlighted by a two-run single by Kendal Stoffel that took a tough hop on the turf infield and then a two-run double by Bailey Gilbert. The Red Dragons brought two more around in the second inning with Jillian Holley smacking an RBI ground-rule double to left and Taylor Glancy lifting a sacrifice fly to center.

Yet another error led to another St. Albans run in the third as Gilbert singled and advanced to second on a miscue in right field, took third base on a wild pitch and scored on a sac fly to left off the bat of Jaden Conrad.

“You can’t give a team like that, as good as they are, three miscues in the first inning, you just can’t do it,” Midland coach Herman Beckett said. “You give them six outs, you get the result that we got in the game. They’re a good team, they’re sound all the way through. There’s no easy out in the lineup and those two pitchers they’ve got are good.”

Both of them were on display on Saturday as Stoffel went the distance against George Washington and sophomore Tayven Stephenson handled business against Cabell Midland. After a bit of a rocky start, Stephenson settled in and retired 12 of the last 13 Midland hitters, striking out seven, walking none and yielding four hits.

“We’ve been hitting the ball great this weekend so I knew my team was going to score the run and a lot more the next inning,” Stephenson said. “That just gave me more confidence in the circle and it lets me know that I can just trust my pitches, and if I miss, they’re going to be back there to defend me.”

It was a balanced offensive effort for the Red Dragons as all nine hitters either scored or drove in a run. Stoffel would add another two-run single on a bloop to center field in the fourth inning to give her four RBIs on the day. Holley finished 3 for 3 and scored twice, with Alivia Nunley adding a double and a run for good measure.

That’s the way it’s been all season for St. Albans. Gracie Payne (batting .463), Stoffel (.458), Glancy (.441), Holley (.435), Stephenson (.432) and Gilbert (.400) are all hitting .400 or better and Stephenson and Stoffel have a combined 0.48 ERA and have yielded more than two runs in a game just once, coming in a 10-4 season-opening win over Corbin, Kentucky.

It’s a roster that would have largely been intact a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring sports. Stoffel was a Class AAA first-team All-State selection in 2019 with Payne landing on the second team.

Now, armed with six seniors — Payne, Stoffel, Holley, Nunley, Glancy and Piper Endicott — on a team that feels like last season would have been its coming-out party, the Red Dragons are looking to make up for lost time. Much like they did on Saturday.

“That’s what we told them, this was just the start of plaque hunting and trophy hunting,” Watts said. “We hope to add a few more by the end of the year.”

Cabell Midland earned its way into the championship game with a 9-0 win over Huntington on Saturday morning. The Highlanders were then sent to the consolation bracket, which was being played into Saturday evening with the last game scheduled for 6 p.m.

Contact Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.