Carroll earns state softball berth

David Broyles/The Carroll News It’s always good to have a little “luck” on your side. Prior to earning a berth into the 4-A State Softball Semifinals, the Carroll County softball team honored long-time fan and supporter “Lucky” Woodyard before the team’s win over Chancellor on June 1. Woodyard was honored for his unwavering commitment to attend home games in spite of health issues.

Carroll County’s softball team is headed to the 4-A State Semifinals for the first time in school history.

While the Cavaliers fell to defending state champion Woodgrove 2-0 in Saturday’s Region 4-A North Championship game, Carroll County (24-1) earned a berth to the state semifinals Friday with a 3-0 road win over Fluvanna in a regional semifinal game.

“Fluvanna punched our ticket to the state,” Carroll County head coach Rick Nester said. “We knew that was the one we had to get.”

Friday’s game was billed as a pitching duel between Carroll County freshman sensation Sydney Nester and Fluvanna’s Annaleise Kennedy, who earlier in the week announced she would forego her senior year of high school to continue her career at Appalachian State in the fall. The game lived up to the hype as both pitchers only allowed one base runner through the first six innings.

Nester singled in the second inning for the Cavaliers’ only base runner until the seventh inning. Meanwhile, Nester was perfect until allowing a walk with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Fluvanna (20-4) inserted a courtesy runner, who was promptly thrown out trying to steal second base by Carroll catcher Caitlin Horton.

“That was a big momentum swing,” Nester said. “She got on base and throwing her out for the second out of the inning was huge because they were getting ready to go back to the top of the lineup when it happened.”

Carroll capitalized in the top of the seventh inning. Davidson set the tone by lining out with a hard line drive to third base. Even though it was an out, she hit the ball hard. Facing an 0-2 count, Cheyenne Strickland followed by ripping a single to center. Hannah Dalton followed by smacking the first pitch she saw into right center to put runners on first and second.

Emily Cook then hit a grounder to second base that was thrown away at first, allowing Strickland to score for a 1-0 Cavalier lead. Jeannie Utt came in as a courtesy runner for Cook, and Nester followed with an RBI single for a 2-0 lead. Nester later stole second and allowed Utt to score when she got caught in a pickle between second and third base.

Fluvanna got its only hit of the game on a bunt single to open the bottom of the seventh. The Flying Flucos moved her over on a sacrifice bunt before Nester ended the game with a strikeout and groundout.

In 14 innings of regional action, Nester allowed just two hits and no runs in wins over Chancellor and Fluvanna. Adding the Conference 24 wins against Bassett (3 hits) and Jefferson Forest (one hit), Nester has allowed just six hits and one run in four postseason games.

“She has pitched fantastic all year long, but she has really been good in the playoffs,” Nester said.

Gracie Davidson continued Carroll’s magnificent pitching in the regional final against Woodgrove, allowing just two runs and six hits against the defending state champs. The Cavaliers also didn’t have any errors. The problem was Carroll was unable to muster much offense against the Wolverines’ ace freshman pitcher, Camryn Dolby. Dolby allowed just two hits while striking out seven and walking one.

“Gracie did an outstanding job and gave us an opportunity to win. She shut them down and the defense played great,” Nester said. “We just never got a hit when we had runners in scoring positions. We left runners at second and third in the top of the fifth with one out, then we had a runner at second one other time. Their pitcher did a good job throwing strikes.”

Woodgrove (24-2) struck early in the first inning as Grace Sanders walked, moved over on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Hallie Daughtry’s RBI double . The Wolverines got another run in the fourth as Taylor Kilgour singled, moved up on a bunt and scored on Lindsey Harris’ single.

Base runners were few and far between for the Cavs against Woodgrove, who won the region championship for the fifth straight season. Hannah Dalton reached for Carroll in the second inning, but the Wolverines ended the inning with a double play.

Sydney Childress led off the third inning with a single and took second on a passed ball, but Dolby retired the next three batters. Carroll had its best opportunity in the fifth as Emily Cook led off with a single and Nester walked. After Childress’ sac bunt moved runners to second and third with one out, Dolby again got the next two batters out to end the inning. Cook was hit by a pitch with one out in the seventh before Dolby sat down the next two batters to hand Carroll its first loss of the season.

“We didn’t have many hits,” Nester said. “Hopefully we get another chance at them or the loser out of the South next Saturday. We have to take care of business Friday first.”

It was still a great showing for a team that had to travel more than 200 miles on Friday before staying the night in Charlottesville and heading to Woodgrove (275 miles north of Hillsville) on Saturday.

“I thought we did a good job. The girls spent a lot of time on the bus, but that didn’t affect their play. They were tired and out of their normal routine. I feel good going into the weekend at Liberty because everyone has to travel,” Nester said. “I also want to thank our crowd. We actually had more people from Carroll at Fluvanna than they did. Their coach made the comment about how well our people travelled to the game. And at Woodgrove, they may have had more than we did, but not many more. We had good crowds at both games.”

Carroll will take on Deep Creek (21-3), the Region 4-A South Champion, at 10 a.m. on Friday at Liberty University. The other state semifinal will pit Woodgrove against Grafton (18-6) at noon. The winners of the semifinals will meet at noon Saturday for the state championship at Liberty.

Carroll Co. 000 000 0 – 0 2 0

Woodgrove 100 100 x – 2 6 1

Davidson and Horton (CC); C. Dolby and Daughtry (W). WP – C. Dolby. LP – Davidson. 2B – Daughtry.

Carroll Co. 000 000 3 – 3 5 0

Fluvanna 000 000 0 – 1 1 1

Nester and Horton (CC); Kennedy and N/A (F). WP – Nester. LP – Kennedy.

Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN