Hurricane tops Lincoln County 13-6 for softball section title
HURRICANE, W.Va. - The monkey that was firmly attached to Hurricane's back was more like a 300-pound gorilla, or the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.
The Redskins shed all of those clichés for failure Thursday evening, scoring eight runs in their last at-bat to take a 13-6 victory over Lincoln County in the deciding game of the Class AAA Region 4 Section 3 tournament. A loud crowd of about 400 attended the matchup of state-ranked teams at Hurricane High School.
Hurricane, which finished third in the final state sportswriters' Class AAA poll, will host No. 2 Cabell Midland next Thursday in the Region 4 semifinals. The teams have already met three times, with Hurricane taking a 15-13 decision then falling 9-8 in the semifinals of the Best of the Best Softball Classic and 12-2 in the championship game of the Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament.
The Redskins (28-6), who set a school record for wins to break last year's mark, finally got past the No. 4 Panthers, who have knocked them out of the postseason the past five years.
"We've been on the other end every year and we've had some good teams,'' said Hurricane fifth-year coach Josh Caldwell, whose team overcame six errors and adversity Thursday with 16 hits.
"It was a huge step for us. At times we looked like a Little League team. What can you say? [Our players] came out in the seventh and knocked the ball all over the place. I'm really proud of them for battling back.''
It wasn't easy, though. Hurricane won the sectional opener convincingly 9-2 Tuesday then lost Wednesday 7-5 before needing a late-inning rally Thursday. Hurricane fell behind 1-0, 4-3 and 5-3 Thursday but battled back every time.
Caldwell didn't hesitate to replace starter Courtney Rogers on Thursday after only facing four batters and allowing one run in the first inning. Emily Davis finished up with five runs allowed (three earned) on nine hits in 62/3 innings.
The Redskins also lost some momentum when starter Nicole Pierson left the game briefly in the third inning after they took a 3-1 lead. Pierson took a ball off the face in center field, but returned in the sixth for the final two innings, singling and scoring in the seventh.
"We just knew we wanted to win really bad,'' said Rogers, who celebrated her 16th birthday with a three-run home run in the seventh that helped secure the win. "It was a little shaky at the beginning, but we just knew we had to get our stuff together and win it. This is the best feeling ever.''
Addie Fullen's two-run home run to left field on an 0-1 count knotted the game at 5-all for Hurricane in the top of the sixth. Then the Redskins' bats really came to life, plating eight runs on nine hits and sending 12 batters to the plate in the seventh to go ahead 13-5 and take control.
Hurricane freshman Maddie Hebb started the frame with a leadoff triple, then freshman Amber Null, the No. 9 hitter, gave the Redskins' the lead for good with a sacrifice fly for a 6-5 edge.
Rogers belted a two-out, three-run round-tripper that gave Hurricane all the confidence it would need and a 9-5 advantage. Linzie Reynolds, who doubled, scored on an error, Fullen added a two-out RBI single, Hebb laced a two-out run-scoring single and then scored on an error for a 13-5 lead.
"I think we were more determined,'' said Null. "Everybody was working together. We had a bigger student section and everybody came out. It was really fun.''
Lincoln County wouldn't go quietly as leadoff batter Morgan Hutchison came through with a RBI single to close to 13-6 with two outs. The Panthers' Sarah Barrett followed with a single to load the bases, but Davis coaxed a groundout from Lincoln County's Brooke West to end the game, sending the Redskins into a wild celebration.
"I'll take my team into battle any day,'' said Lincoln County coach Rod Hoover. "I'm proud of my girls. It could have gone either way, back and forth, back and forth. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's a dogfight every year. One pitch, we're out of [the seventh inning] giving up one run or even no runs.''
Hurricane had four players with multiple hits and all three homers came with two outs. Hebb finished 4 for 4 with a two-run homer, triple, three runs scored and three RBIs while Reynolds rapped out three hits, including a pair of doubles. Fullen finished with two hits and Davis went 2 for 4 with a double and RBI.
Barrett finished 2 for 5 with an RBI for Lincoln County (23-8) while West pounded out two hits, including a double, and Sarah Pennington went 2 for 3 and knocked in a run. Faith Huffman added two hits, including a double, for the Panthers while Amy Parsons doubled in a run and Kayla Jeffers added a sacrifice fly.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.