By Stephen Smoot
On a warm, breezy, sometimes sunny, sometimes overcast day in Baker, the Pendleton County Wildcats survived a tough challenge from home standing East Hardy.
The Lady Wildcats struggled somewhat on defense in their season opener against Keyser, who brought high powered offense to the contest.
Against the Cougars, fortunately, the batting, pitching, and defense all came to play.
Pendleton County struck first. Avery Townsend led the team off by hooking a double into left field. Lizzie Alt followed that by working a walk. Allie Vance grounded to short, taking the sacrifice to send Townsend home and Alt to third. Baylee Beachler followed that with a sacrifice ground ball that put the Wildcats up 2-0.
Vance then took the mound for Pendleton County and struck out two on her way to efficiently closing out the first inning.
One of the main differences between the two teams lay in patience at the plate. Through most of the game, Pendleton County hitters worked the opposing pitcher, going deep into most counts. This also opened up opportunities. For example, in the top of the second, Jenna Smith earned a two out walk on five pitches and eventually scored on a Nataley Hedrick single to right field. Hedrick herself scored on a Townsend line drive double to put the Wildcats up 4-0.
The bottom of the second saw the Pendleton County defense strongly supporting Vance. She allowed a lead off single, but Hedrick threw her out on a steal attempt. Then, two straight hits to third resulted in two good throws to retire the side.
East Hardy continued to struggle to keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard in the top of the third. Beachler singled to left and promptly stole second. Two wild pitches gave Beachler the opportunity to lift the score to 5-0. Later in the inning, Katie Hedrick sent another runner home with a double off the wall, extending the lead to 6-0.
The Cougars switched pitchers and righted their ship, shutting down the Pendleton County bats in the fourth. In the bottom of the fourth, they mounted their first major threat. A flare into shallow centerfield gave them a leadoff runner. Next, they popped out to second, but followed that with a line drive to center that gave them runners at first and second. Vance then walked the next batter in six pitches to load the bases with only one out.
Pendleton County ended the inning when the batter hit a slow roller to third. The third baseman stepped on the bag, getting the first runner out. A Cougar scored from third, but the Wildcats earned a double play by throwing to first. The East Hardy baserunner did not tag first and was called out. The Wildcats ended a potentially big inning with alert and sound defense.
East Hardy continued to pick away at the lead. In the bottom of the fifth they started with a leadoff runner at third, hitting a double that was extended to the next base by a fielding error. A line drive double to the wall sent that runner in to cut the lead to 6-2.
In the bottom of the sixth, Vance showed some signs of tiring. East Hardy hitters also started showing more patience at the plate, going deeper in the count. Vance and her fielders, however, forced the Cougars into going three up and three down.
Pendleton County earned one more run in the top of the final inning. They gained that insurance starting with a lead off line drive back up the middle by Alt. The ball injured the pitcher, forcing the umpires to hold her at first. Vance sacrificed and advanced Alt to third. Beachler then lofted a sacrifice fly deep into the outfield to allow Alt to tag up and score easily, setting the lead at 7-2.
Little did anyone realize at the time how important that insurance would be.
East Hardy tried to make the most of their final opportunity. They lined a double to the wall to lead off their half of the inning. The next batter also fired a shot off the wall for a double, scoring the leadoff hitter. A third straight double suddenly cut the lead to 7-4, followed by an RBI single that narrowed the once comfortable Wildcat lead to two.
The Cougars had one out, runners at first and second, and the tying run at the plate. A single loaded the bases. East Hardy rolled a grounder to second, gaining the crucial second out, but also putting the tying run at third and the go ahead at first.
Vance dug deep. With her arm visibly tired, she found a way. The last hope for East Hardy weakly grounded to third, ending the rally and preserving the win for Pendleton.
A weekend doubleheader against Spring Mills was rained out. On Monday, they hosted Pocahontas County (XXXX) Results from the Tuesday contest at Tygarts Valley were not available at time of publication. The Wildcats host the Petersburg Vikings tonight.