You knew the Lady Cavaliers (17-0) were in it to win it Monday night when some hometown softball fans left and brought back chairs. Carroll County went the distance in 18 innings to advance from the Region 4A West Quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory in a nail-biter over Loudoun Valley (16-4).
According to the VHSL Book of Records, the 18-inning marathon was three innings short of tying a state record. Winning pitcher Sydney Nester matched her career high with 21 strikeouts and broke new territory with 251 pitches. The win will pit the Cavs against Freedom High School this Wednesday, May 31 at 6 p.m. in the Region 4A West Semifinals.
The table was set when Katie McKenzie singled in the 18th. Jena Alley nailed a solid double to the outfield to move her to third. Then, finally, Chloe Easter fired a single in the gap which sent McKenzie home for the game’s only run, finally ending the nearly four-hour affair.
“I just hit the first pitch because we needed to score. I was determined to get a hit. I’d been putting the ball in play but I got robbed three times. I was a little down but I knew if I hit it we would score,” said Easter. “I was shocked when I saw it go through but I knew it was going to happen. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it. I felt pressured and a little bit frustrated but we needed to keep pushing to win. I just thought all we could do was to go for it.”
Nester allowed ten hits with four base on balls and 21 strikeouts while Lady Viking Tressa Kagarise allowed 14 hits, five base on balls and struck out 19. Much of the game was a seesaw of action with the majority of Loudoun’s scoring opportunities ending with runners on third with two outs.
Notable was one double play when, with runners on first and third, Loudoun Valley’s Grace Kopf got caught in a rundown between third and home. Nester tagged Kopf and then tossed the ball to Laken Crockett, who tagged Olivia Badura enroute to third in the subsequent traffic jam.
Likewise the best effort for the Lady Cavaliers, with runners on second and third, was foiled by Sydney Hays, who caught the ball exiting her glove barehanded and gunned it to third, catching the runner there.
“Honestly I think this was the longest I’ve ever gone on (pitching). Before this I’ve gone 12 or 13 but not 18. I felt pretty good. There were some times when I thought, you know what, I’m tired but I came in, sat down and got some water. I feel like I could have gone on more but I think when I hit 25 maybe I’d be done,” said Nester. “We were rallying back and forth and the rowdyness of the crowd, I just had to focus on each inning, each hit, relax and slow down. There were a few times when I threw a lot of balls and I thought I have to calm down and they have to hit my pitch. My defense really had my back. I was fired up. I had to keep everyone fired up. I had to keep going. Have something. We might have won if everyone was laid back but we had to keep it going. The crowd was keeping us going. I was keeping us going and everyone was keeping me going.”
Nester praised the Cavalier defenders for “not running out of gas.” She said she felt everyone had her back and “gave their full effort.” She said Loudoun Valley was a tough team and predicted she’ll be back Wednesday. Coach Rick Nester said he had confidence in the talent throughout the offensive lineup with the late rally coming as no surprise.
“We had talked about it with Chloe. The last three times up I believe. She was hitting shots. She was hitting the ball hard. We knew Taylor (Spangler) had gotten some good hits and she’s at the eight spot,” Nester said. “When she is at the eight spot we thought if we could get in scoring position we knew we could count on Taylor to bunt. She does a good job at that and we knew Chloe could do something with it from there. I didn’t feel down when I saw who was coming up for us. Katie had hit the ball hard tonight. Jenna (Alley) hadn’t got a hold of one yet but had put the ball in play. She got it at the right time and she can put the ball in play. Any at bat she can get a hold of one and she hadn’t yet, but that was a good time to get hold of one.”
Nester said the Lady Cavs had a lot of opportunities early and then went for a stretch from innings 11 through 14 with no one in scoring position. He also had Nester make adjustments as the contest stretched on.
“We tried to save pitches and stay with pitches she was throwing for strikes and we eliminated certain pitches. They could not handle her inside hard pitch and we started going outside in the last two innings and she caught several looking on that outside strike. She had one inning she struggled a little bit with control,” Rick Nester said. “She got back in the groove and had 21 strikeouts. She did an awesome job fighting through that. She had multiple innings where she had some 13-, 14-pitch innings and almost had a three-pitch inning if it hadn’t been for an error. She’s a battler. She is a warrior.”
L. Valley 000 000 000 000 000 000 – 0 10 0
Carroll Co. 000 000 000 000 000 001 – 1 14 2
Kagarise and Maple (LV); Nester and Hiatt (CC). WP – Nester; LP – Kagarise. 2B – Buckland (LV); Alley (CC).
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.