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Quick start carries Midland to MSAC softball title

HURRICANE, W.Va. - Everything came together for Cabell Midland on Wednesday night, which was more suited for football than the Mountain State Athletic Conference softball championship.

The Knights scored eight runs in the top of the first inning, then Midland starter Kyla Shull shut down heavy-hitting Hurricane in taking a 12-2 five-inning victory in the MSAC title game. A crowd of about 200 braved 40-degree temperatures and blustery winds at Hurricane High School.

Midland (24-4), seeded second in the tournament, exacted a measure of revenge on No. 1 and defending conference champion Hurricane. The Redskins, the fourth seed, upended the No. 1 Knights on their home field in last year's MSAC semifinals.

The teams split this season with the Redskins (25-5), who are third in this week's state sportswriters' poll, taking a 15-13 decision at home and the No. 2 Knights winning 9-8 in the semis of the Best of the Best Softball Classic.

"They had a lot of energy,'' Midland coach Jeanne Lunsford said of her players. "It was probably the best energy they've had all year. These girls are a great bunch of kids. They have one thing in mind. They want to get better every game.''

Midland sent 14 batters to the plate in the first and even more astoundingly strung together 10 straight hits after the first two hitters in the lineup were retired routinely.

Morgan Kelley's two-out, run-scoring double gave the Knights the lead for good at 1-0 and Savannah Eplin followed with a two-run double for a 3-0 advantage. Alyssa Koontz, Morgan Zerkle and Mandi King drove in a run apiece during the barrage for a 6-0 bulge. Midland plated its last two runs in the frame on an error for an 8-0 lead, one that would be too much for Hurricane to overcome.

"[Assistant coach] Greg [Lunsford] and I were talking about it, I don't think I've ever had a team to hit the ball [like that] with two outs,'' Jeanne Lunsford said. "That's so focused.''

Midland, which pounded out 16 hits, finished with six different players getting at least two knocks, with Koontz's 3-for-4 effort leading the way.

"We had two outs and nobody on,'' added Hurricane coach Josh Caldwell, whose team committed six errors. "You can't give up any runs with two outs. We kind of let up after that. We've got to regroup. It's not indicative of the way we normally play. If we do that against anybody we'll lose.''

Meanwhile, Shull kept the Redskins off balance, limiting them to four hits. Her only mistake was deposited well over the center-field fence by Hurricane cleanup hitter Courtney Rogers, her third round-tripper in as many days.

"A lot of my pitches were working,'' said Shull. "The energy helped a lot coming out with that big lead. I just had a lot of movement and keeping the ball low, that helped, and keeping them on their toes. It's kind of a rival. It feels really good to come out here and beat them.''

 Shull worked out of trouble in the second when the Redskins loaded the bases with one out, retiring the next hitter on a lineout to shortstop and then fanning No. 9 batter Amber Null to end the threat. Hurricane put runners on first and second with two outs in the fourth but Shull caught Hurricane leadoff hitter Madison Casto's liner up the middle to end the inning.

"Kyla did a great job,'' said Jeanne Lunsford. "I'm very proud of her. Our pitching has been in and out all year long. With the wind blowing out this could have been a 25-20 game. [Hurricane is] such a great hitting team. She had to work on some of her movement. She's letting the ball move instead of being a power pitcher.''

Rogers, who allowed four hits and whiffed 10 in a 5-1 win over No. 4 South Charleston in Tuesday's MSAC semifinals, didn't make it out of the first Wednesday. She was pulled after two-thirds of an inning and charged with eight runs (six earned) on eight hits.

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.

 


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