Sydney Nester struck out 15 in a three-hitter and Kyndall Hiatt’s solo home run ignited Carroll County’s offense Monday in a 5-1 win over James Wood in a Region 4A West Softball Quarterfinal in Hillsville.
Before Hiatt’s howitzer cleared the fence in right center field, Carroll County (22-0) struggled for the first two innings. The Cavaliers left the bases loaded in a scoreless first inning and went down in order in the second. Meanwhile, James Wood (16-8) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning thanks to a couple of Cavalier miscues.
“I think we were all a little bit relieved,” Carroll County’s Sydney Nester said of Hiatt’s third-inning homer. “I think that definitely broke the ice and got the rally going.”
After Hiatt’s round-tripper to open the third, Gracie Davidson spanked a hard-hit single to center field. With that, James Wood made an early pitching change, subbing the hard-throwing Lauren King in for Lani Spielman. The change was much to the Cavaliers’ liking as Sydney Nester and Katie McKenzie followed with back-to-back RBI singles, putting Carroll in front 3-1. After Emily Cook was hit by a pitch, Laken Crockett completed the big inning with a run-scoring single to right field, plating Nester for a 4-1 lead.
“Kyndall hit the home run, Gracie hit the line drive and he made the pitching change immediately. That surprised me,” Carroll County head coach Rick Nester said. “And then the next girl that came in they hit her right off the bat pretty quick. Katie McKenzie got some ropes and Syd got one.”
While Sydney Nester eventually struck out 15, she struggled in the early going against a consistent, but small strike zone. After the Colonels’ leadoff hitter Courtney Harper was hit by a pitch, Taylor Woolsey moved her over with a sacrifice bunt. And while the Cavaliers did not commit an error the entire playoffs last year en route to the state title, Carroll uncharacteristically made two in the first inning Monday.
Harper took third after an errant pickoff attempt by Hiatt behind the plate. Then Lindsey Anderson reached after Hiatt was called for catcher’s interference. Lauren King then laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score Harper for a 1-0 lead that stood up until the third inning.
“Going all the way through without making an error is just not realistic. That is not going to happen all the time. We made the throwing error and then Kyndall settled down and she got in the game behind the plate and at the plate batting,” Rick Nester said. “The girls took care of it on the mound. Syd brought them in and they all talked about it. The bunt was a great bunt by James Wood. They had no chance getting her at the plate. Gracie made a good decision going on and getting the out at first base to control it, get the out and get out of the inning.”
And Hiatt more than atoned with her heat-seeking home run in the third, drilling an outside pitch from Spielman way out of Cavalier Park.
“It felt good. I just wanted to give my team a chance,” Hiatt said.
Carroll added an insurance run in the fifth inning after Emily Cook and Caitlin Horton opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Pinch-runner Chloe Easter would go on to score after Morgan Tompkins reached on an error on a hard-hit ball past shortstop.
On the mound, Nester hit three James Wood batters with pitches in the first three innings. While Rick Nester said those weren’t intentional, it did seem to have the effect of making the Colonels back off the plate. After the third hit batter, Nester whiffed 12 batters in the past five innings.
“They were tight on the plate at the beginning and she hit three batters. I don’t know if they backed off because of that, but they did (back off),” Rick Nester said. “And then she started going out and in after that and mixing it back and forth with the changeup. She got ahead in the counts and when she does that and throws that changeup in there it is tough to hit.”
McKenzie, Davidson and Cook all had two hits to lead the Cavalier offense. With the win, Carroll County advanced to the Region 4A West Semifinals on June 1. The Cavs are scheduled to host Fauquier County at 6 p.m.
James W. 100 000 0 – 1 3 1
Carroll Co. 004 010 x – 5 11 2
Spielman, King (3) and Anderson (JW); Nester and Hiatt (CC). WP – Nester. LP – Spielman. 2B – Nester, McKenzie (CC). HR – Hiatt (CC).