WINFIELD, W.Va. — Sometimes that’s just the way the ball bounces.
An uncommon 6-4-3 putout for the second out in the bottom of the seventh inning ultimately allowed the Point Pleasant softball team to hold on for a 3-2 victory over host Winfield Friday night during the third and final game of the Class AAA Region 4, Section 1 tournament in Putnam County.
The Lady Knights (22-9) never trailed in Game 3 as the guests established a 3-0 cushion midway through the fifth inning. The Lady Generals (18-14), however, kept chipping away and plated a run in the home half of the fifth, which made it a 3-1 contest through five complete.
The score stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh, when Winfield made one final charge in trying to take the lead.
Lindsey Wallace, Abbie Short and Cartney Schoolcraft all provided one-out singles to load up the bases, which made PPHS move its infielders in for any possible double-play balls.
Emily Moore followed by drilling a 2-2 shot straight at Point Pleasant shortstop Makinley Higginbotham, who managed to have the sharp grounder roll up her glove and body as it moved toward second base.
Point second baseman Cammy Hesson instinctively snagged the ball out of the air and made a relay throw to first in time to get Moore for the second out, but Wallace did score on the play as Winfield closed the gap down to 3-2 with runners at second and third.
WHS clean-up hitter Madison Wall followed by hitting the first pitch offered to Kelsie Byus at third base, who then accurately threw across the diamond for the final out of the game.
With the triumph, the Lady Knights claimed their 11th consecutive regional appearance while also picking up their fourth one-run victory over the Lady Generals this spring.
For third-year PPHS coach James Higginbotham, Friday night was a testament to what softball is all about. As he noted, it was just a classic battle between two teams that desperately wanted to win — and his team was just fornuate enough to come out on top.
“Honestly, what a great series. This is what softball is supposed to be, just back and forth with both teams being pretty even for the most part,” Higginbotham said. “Both teams just played their hearts out and it’s a shame that somebody has to lose, but at the same time I’m glad that we are moving on.
“We were fortunate because we just seemed to be able to get out of jams tonight. But, give our girls credit because we did enough of the little things to get out of here with the win.”
Point Pleasant left two baserunners stranded in scoring position over the first three innings, but the guests finally broke into the scoring column in the top of the fourth as Leah Cochran and Tanner King both singled.
Kelsey Price followed with a one-out ground ball to first that led to the second out of the inning, but Cochran also scored on the play as PPHS took a 1-0 advantage. Megan Hammond followed with an RBI double to right-center that plated courtesy runner Hannah Smith for a two-run cushion.
Then in the top of the fifth, the Lady Knights tacked on an all-important insurance run as Kelsie Byus delivered a two-out single to right-center that allowed Makinley Higginbotham to score for a 3-0 lead midway through the fifth.
Winfield started its comeback bid in the bottom half of the fifth as Margaret Rumbaugh delivered a one-out single, then advanced to third on a wild pitch. Abbie Short answered with a two-out single up the middle that plated Rumbaugh for a 3-1 contest through five complete.
Winfield had runners at first and second with one out in the sixth, but couldn’t muster any offense as Point Pleasant got out of the inning unscathed.
The Lady Knights outhit the hosts by a 9-7 overall margin and committed two of the three errors in the contest. PPHS stranded 10 runners on base and eight in scoring position, while Winfield left eight on the bags and five in scoring position.
Karissa Cochran was the winning pitcher of record after allowing two earned runs, seven hits and one walk over seven innings while striking out two.
WHS starter Cartney Schoolcraft suffered the loss after surrendering three earned runs, nine hits and two walks over 5.2 innings of work while fanning five. Moore also walk two in 1.1 frames of relief.
Byus, King and Leah Cochran all paced PPHS with two hits apiece, followed by Hammond, Cammy Hesson and Michaela Cottrill with a safety each.
Short paced Winfield with two hits, while Schoolcraft, Moore, Rumbaugh, Wallace and Tiffany Childers also had a safety apiece in the setback.
The Lady Knights — who have now won 20 of their last 22 outings against Winfield — now turn their focus to the Logan Lady Wildcats, a team that they have split with the last two years in regional semifinal play. Logan, however, won last year’s contest by a 6-2 count.
This time around, the Lady Knights will host Logan at 6 p.m. Thursday at Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School in a Region 4 semifinal.
“We’ve been to Logan the last three years for regionals, so it will be nice to be home for one of these finally,” Higginbotham said. “Hopefully we’ll have a big crowd out to support the girls on and we’ll see if we can’t get a win in the semifinals. We played two really close games with Logan earlier this year, so it will probably be another dogfight.
“We know what we are going to see and they know what they are going to see. It’ll just come down to who plays better and who wants it more, much like this series with Winfield. We’re looking forward to it, definitely.”
Point Pleasant won both regular season matchups this spring by counts of 1-0 and 4-3. PPHS also swept Logan in the regular season last year before dropping the regional semifinal contest.
NOTES: Due to an early deadline, this story will appear in the Tuesday sports editions of the Point Pleasant Register, Gallipolis Daily Tribune and The Daily Sentinel.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.