By Stephen Smoot
Coming into the East Hardy game last week, Pendleton County had enjoyed a scorching .750 winning percentage, including big wins over Hampshire, Frankfort, Moorefield, and Hedgesville. The Cougars had also knocked off larger schools during the same stretch, defeating Martinsburg, Elkins, and Tygarts Valley.
The Cougars charged out of the gate quickly, leading off with a walk, followed by a bunt single. A double drove in two runs, followed by an RBI single to put Pendleton County behind 3-0 before their first at bat.
Battling adversity, however, has served as a powerful theme for the Wildcats all season. Avery Thompson led the Wildcat half of the first with a walk. Two batters later, Lizzie Alt earned a walk, followed by another free pass granted by the East Hardy pitcher to Allie Vance. With the bases loaded, Katie Hedrick knocked in a run with an infield single. Baylee Beachler earned her first RBI of the game with a walk of her own.
The East Hardy pitcher settled in and struck out two to end the first.
Action continued in the top of the second as East Hardy hit a one out single followed by an RBI single to put the score at 4-2.
The Wildcats kept clawing away at the Cougar lead. Townsend hit a one out single, then stole second during Jenna Smith’s at bat. Pendleton County’s batters consistently went deep into the count, using patience to wait for good pitches. This elevated the pitch count quickly in the early innings.
Alt dueled the pitcher effectively in her second at bat. She worked a full count, to the delight of her teammates who chanted “full count! Make it count!” And she did, battling through several foul balls before drawing a walk. Though stranded at first, such at bats take a toll on opposing pitchers.
East Hardy looked at a slim 4-3 lead going into the top of the third. Vance faced three batters and put them down in order. Hedrick, the leadoff batter, got on base, then stole second during Beachler’s at bat. Beachler drew a walk. A double steal put Hedrick on third and Beachler on second. Ashton Hess then stepped to the plate and belted a double, knocking in two runs and helping her team seize the lead.
The Wildcats never trailed again the rest of the contest.
In the top of the fourth, East Hardy got a one out infield single. Two batters and one out later, the Cougars blasted a double to centerfield. Smith fired the ball toward the infield where it was relayed quickly to the catcher Nataley Hedrick. She applied the tag and prevented the run. The final batter of the inning popped out harmlessly.
Pendleton County kicked into another gear for the bottom of the fourth. Alt, Vance, and Katie Hedrick all singled. Each occupied a base as Beachler came to bat. She then cleared the bases by sending a Cougar pitch well over the wall. Senior Hannah Rexrode, in her last home game of the season, used her power and speed to get a stand up triple, then was knocked in by Nataley Hedrick’s sacrifice RBI to set the score at 10-4.
The Cougars still had some fight in the top of the fifth. Their leadoff batter got aboard and was driven in by the subsequent batter who blasted a double. Townsend, however, robbed a hitter with a diving play to keep the ball playable for the out. A sacrifice RBI, however, gave East Hardy their second run of the inning, but the Wildcats shut down the rally with a pop out.
In the bottom of the fifth, East Hardy got the Wildcats to go down in order, but themselves could not mount a challenge in the top of the sixth. Pendleton County started their half of the sixth with a Katie Hedrick leadoff double on the very first pitch. Beachler followed by working a full count, then hitting her own double.
With runners at second and third and no outs, East Hardy hit Rexrode with a pitch to load the bases. Hess came up next. During her at bat, the Cougars had a passed ball that allowed a run to score with runners remaining on second and third. Hess struck out, but another passed ball allowed her to reach first safely and also let two more runs score.
Hess reached second on the error, allowing head coach Charlie Padgett to reach into his toolkit and pull out a game ending play. Nataley Hedrick laid a perfect bunt down the first baseline, allowing Hess to round third and score, at which point the umpires called the game.
The East Hardy game, combined with a big win over triple A Hedgesville last week provided a crucial lift after a month of battling much larger schools. Another huge boost came from the Wildcats battling back to win a rain delayed game originally started as the second game of a double header in the middle of last month. Alt hit her second home run of the season in the 10-8 victory.
The Lady Wildcats earned the second seed and were scheduled to host Moorefield Wednesday in the first round of sectional play, weather permitting.