VIENNA — The Man High School softball team was down to its last strike.
Only one strike away from defeat the Lady Billies somehow managed to take a thrilling 6-4 victory over Moorefield on Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the Class A state softball tournament at Jackson Memorial Park in Vienna.
Down 4-2, with the bases loaded and facing a 1-2 count with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Man freshman shortstop Chelsie Vance ripped a bases-clearing, three-run double to center field, putting the Lady Billies on top 5-4 over Moorefield.
Junior catcher Sydney Keffer then followed with an RBI single to score Vance, giving the Lady Billies a 6-4 cushion. Keffer was cut down at first as she strayed too far off the base for the third out of the inning but the damage was done.
Man was able to plate five runs in the top of the seventh and then got Moorefield out in the last half of the frame to advance to Wednesday night’s winner’s bracket game against top seed and undefeated Wheeling Central (31-0), which knocked off Williamstown 4-0 in the other Class A first-round state tourney game.
With the win, Man improved to 25-5.
The comeback by the Lady Billies was truly remarkable as Man was only a hair away from losing to the Yellow Jackets and falling into the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament and being one defeat away from elimination.
Man had entered the top of the seventh down 4-1 and the situation looked hopeless.
Grace Cline, however, led off with a single and Maddy Paynter was safe on an error.
Then with two on and no outs, second baseman Savannah McCormack delivered an RBI single to cut Moorefield’s lead to just 4-2.
Emily Walker and pitcher Haylee Daniels then both popped out and Man was just one out from defeat.
Leadoff third baseman Emilee Toler then stepped to the plate and was able to work a 3-2 count on Moorefield pitcher Bethany Smith.
Toler then lofted a curling foul ball past first base and near the fence. The Moorefield first baseman went back and attempted to make an over-the-shoulder catch but the ball was just out of her reach by only inches.
That could have ended the game.
But instead, Toler drew a walk on the very next pitch to load up the bases and setting the table for Vance who saved the day for the Lady Billies.
It was an exciting win for Man, which is searching for the school’s fourth state championship in softball. Man last won state titles in 2008 and 2009 and came very close to taking a third straight championship in 2010 before falling to South Harrison in extra innings.
Daniels then got Moorefield out in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the win. Moorefield’s Savannah Kite had led off with a single but was doubled off at first on Rebekah Markwood’s fly ball to center. Daniels then got an infield pop up to end the game.
Man coach Randy Epperly, who guided the Lady Billies to their most recent state crowns, was relieved afterwards.
“I’m getting too old for this. This is getting too exciting,” joked a happy Epperly after the game. “Our senior, Emilee Toler, battled battled and battled and drew that walk. I knew that our freshman shortstop Vance could do it if she would just keep her head down. She’s a great bunter and she can get the bat on the ball. She came through didn’t she?”
Epperly said he was proud of his team for not giving up.
“We needed a win like this. We haven’t had a win like this in a long time,” he said. “We really haven’t had a win like this all year long to be honest about it. That’s why I try to tell these girls. When you are losing 3-1 or 4-1 and things are kind of dragging along, that last run that you give up sometimes comes back to bite you. It almost did. We would have felt bad if we lost this game 4-3 because we gave them some runs that we shouldn’t have. We have the hitters but sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves and we go up there and we don’t do what we need to do. But this is a great win and I’m looking forward to Wheeling Central this evening.”
Man had went up 1-0 in the top of the third as Walker singled and scored on Toler’s RBI single.
The Yellow Jackets (17-15) then scored three runs in the bottom of the third to grab a 3-1 lead. Markwood tied it 1-1 with an RBI single. Smith then had a bases loaded, two-run double to right center, putting Moorefield on top 3-1.
In the sixth, Moorefield added one more as Smith doubled and later scored on a squeeze bunt by Macy Zirk to make it 4-1.
It was all Lady Billies after that.
Daniels picked up the win on the mound for Man. She allowed four runs on six hits with eight strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter. Smith suffered the loss for the Yellow Jackets.
Man was led at the plate by Cline, who was 2-for-4. Toler, Vance, Keffer, McCormack and Walker all added hits.
The loss put Moorefield into Wednesday night’s loser’s bracket game against Williamstown.
Man is 10-1 in its last 11 games dating back to mid-April.
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).