Wednesday’s Conference 24 softball semifinal between Carroll County and Jefferson Forest pitted two teams against each other that couldn’t have been more similar.
Both teams are the Cavaliers, and the two clubs entered the game with almost identical records (Carroll was 13-8 and Jefferson Forest was 14-9 heading into the contest). But thanks to great bunting, timely hitting and some magnificent defensive plays, Carroll County won the battle of the Cavaliers 12-2 in five innings to earn a spot in Friday’s Conference 24 Championship game at Bassett and next week’s Region 4-A North Tournament.
“I felt like we were about as even as two teams could have been,” Carroll County head coach Rick Nester said. “Things went our way today and when they started snowballing, they rolled.”
In the end, Carroll County pulled away with four runs each in the third, fourth and fifth innings to win by the mercy rule. But the game was really much closer than that as Nester’s team made big play after big play to save runs in the field.
Jefferson Forest threatened to take the lead in the top of third after Anna Pfister led off with a single to left field and Madison McGrath reached on a bloop single. With runners on first and second and nobody out, Carroll outfielders Tiffanie Moore and Cheyenne Strickland made back-to-back spectacular plays to keep Jefferson Forest off the board.
The first was a deep fly ball to left that looked to be well over the head of Moore. But the Carroll left fielder used her speed to catch up to the ball and make a running, over-the-shoulder grab just a few feet short of the fence. Moore’s superb play kept both Jefferson Forest runners from tagging up. The next batter, Skylar Jenkins, smoked a line drive to deep center field that Strickland ran down just shy of the fence, also keeping runners from advancing. After Carroll starting pitcher Gracie Davidson walked Casey Roginski to load the bases, Davidson got Ashley Jennings to ground out to end the inning.
“Tiffanie Moore had a heck of a play. The girl on second for them took off because she didn’t think she was going to make the catch. By the time she went back to tag it was too late. And Cheyenne had a play on the ball that when it was hit I thought it was a double. It was in the gap, the girl ripped it, Cheyenne ran it down and they didn’t tag on it,” Nester said. “We had two back-to-back plays there where we saved what easily could have been three runs. I don’t think there was a game this year of the outfield making a bigger difference than they did last night. It was just a huge momentum swing.”
On the other side of the coin, Carroll got a spot-on scouting report that helped the team break through offensively after going down in order the first two innings. The home-standing Cavaliers finally got a runner on base in the bottom of the third when Kayla Walker slapped a single through the infield. That’s when Nester called for Hannah Dalton to lay down a bunt. Roginski had a hard time fielding the ball before throwing it over the first baseman’s head.
Nester followed it up with another bunt call that was almost identical, with Kendall Hiatt reaching on another Roginski error that allowed Walker to score the game’s first run. Eden Durnil then smacked an RBI single past third base. With two outs, Strickland put Carroll up 4-0 with a two-run single to left center.
The big inning was all made possible thanks to some key intelligence Nester picked up preparing for Jefferson Forest. He said the rap on the team was that they struggled to field the bunt.
“There have been a lot of conversations on phones. I didn’t have an opportunity to scout them, but I had other people watching for me so we had an idea of that going into the game. That was the game plan we talked about that we were going to try to do, make them make the plays to cover the bases on the bunt,” Nester said. “We also heard if we made them throw strikes and were patient at the plate, they would struggle a little bit. I let the first six batters hit, but after that we were taking until they threw us a strike. After that we started clicking and we stayed with that the rest of the night.”
Jefferson Forest got two of the runs back in the top of the fourth. But again, Carroll made another big play and got a little luck to save additional runs from scoring.
With the bases loaded and one out, McGrath hit a line drive to first that would have certainly scored one run, if not two. But the ball hit Pfisk at first base, causing McGrath to be out and keeping the runners from advancing. Jefferson Forest then plated its only two runs when Minnick reached on error through the infield to cut Carroll’s lead to 4-2.
With runners on first and second, Jenkins followed with a single to left field. After fielding the ball, Moore made a quick throw to the cutoff player, Eden Durnil at shortstop. Durnil then turned and threw to Hiatt, who tagged Jenkins out at second to end the inning just before Pfisk crossed the plate for what would have been the third run of the inning.
“Tiffanie’s play when she threw it to the cut and Kendall Hiatt covered second, the girl made the turn and she didn’t know where to go. That took another run away,” Nester said. “The girl at second didn’t run hard to the plate and we got the third out before she crossed home.”
After a 30-minute thunder delay, Carroll brought its own noise at the plate in the bottom of the fourth. Sydney Childress, Hannah Dalton and Hiatt all walked to load the bases before Durnil’s RBI single drove in Childress. Lindsey then reached on an error to allow two more runs to score. Davidson then ripped a deep RBI sac fly to center that increased Carroll’s lead to 8-2.
With the weather threatening to delay the game again, Carroll went ahead and ended it by the mercy rule with four runs in the fifth. With the bases loaded, Hiatt slapped an RBI single up the middle to make it 9-2. Eden Durnil then walked with the bases full to score another run. With one out, Lindsey ended it with a two-run double to center to give Carroll the 12-2 win.
“Jefferson Forest put the ball in play and we only had one error I can remember. We made great plays defensively and we hit the ball,” Nester said. “It was probably one of the best days we have hit the ball this year.”
Lindsey went 2-for-4 with 4 RBIs to lead Carroll, while Durnil was 2-for-3 with two runs and 3 RBIs. Strickland also drove in two runs for the winning team.
J. Forest 000 20 -2 6 1
Carroll 004 44 - 12 9 2
Roginski, Maryhand (5) and Moll (JF); Davidson and Lindsey (CC). WP – Davidson. LP – Roginski. 2B – Durnil, Lindsey (CC).
Carroll Co. 21, William Fleming 0
Carroll County’s softball team opened the Conference 24 Tournament with a bang May 26, hammering William Fleming 21-0.
The Cavaliers pushed 10 runs across in the first inning and never looked back as 11 different players drove in runs. Carroll added seven runs in the second inning and two runs each in the third and fourth innings to easily win by the mercy rule.
Meanwhile, pitchers Gracie Davidson and Eden Durnil combined to throw a one-hit shutout. Davidson struck out four in three innings of work and did not give up a hit or walk. Durnil whiffed three batters in two innings while giving up just one hit and no walks.
Tiffanie Moore went 2-for-3 with two runs and 3 RBIs to lead the Cavaliers, while Cheyenne Strickland scored three runs and drove in three more. Durnil and Davidson both scored three runs and drove in two each, Kayla Walker went 2-for-3 with a run and 2 RBIs, and Kendall Hiatt drove in two and scored two. Brea Sizemore added 2 RBIs, while Gracie Lindsey, Sydney Childress, Hannah Dalton and Eustacia Smith each had one RBI.
W. Fleming 000 00 - 0 1 2
Carroll Co. (10)72 2x - 21 14 1
Thompson, Waldron (3), Short (4) and Short and Waldron (4) (WF); Davidson, Durnil (4) and Lindsey (CC). WP – Davidson. LP – Thompson. 2B – Durnil, Davidson, Robinson (CC). 3B – Moore (CC).