Mountain-Valley 1A/2A Conference
Starmount Holds Off Huskies
May 13, 2009Ashe County Huskies
By Eric Lusk
BOONVILLE - Kendra Yearick, Ashe County's starting softball pitcher the past four years, finished her latest season with a 0.00 ERA against conference rival Starmount in three games.
Unfortunately for the senior, she also was tagged with three losses.
Yearick became the hard-luck losing pitcher against the Rams for the third time Tuesday afternoon in the opening round of the Mountain Valley 2A Conference tournament. Starmount took advantage of two passed balls, a misplayed ball and a dropped ball to push single runs across in the third and fifth innings.
That was all the Rams needed to give their own pitcher, up-and-coming freshman Courtney Groce, her 14th victory of the spring - a 2-0 decision that vaults Starmount into the MVAC semifinals.
Starmount beat Ashe 1-0 in both regular season meetings.
"Kendra is a very good pitcher. She's top-notch," Starmount coach Heather Courts said. "For some reason, we just can't do much with her at all. If she had more support, she could have a lot better record than she's had.
"We had to small-game it today to get things done. We didn't hit the ball like we normally do."
Monday's rain, which pushed the MVAC tournament opener back a day, proved a blessing in disguise for the Rams. Courts took her team into the gym Monday afternoon to work on bunting and small-ball tactics. It paid off Tuesday against Yearick and the Huskies in a game played under clear blue skies with near-perfect late spring temperatures.
Maygan Baldwin scored the first run for the Rams in the bottom of the third. The No. 9 hitter in the order, Baldwin earned a one-out single to get aboard.
Carla Cave then sacrificed Baldwin into scoring position. Two passed balls eventually brought Baldwin home for a 1-0 lead.
Jessica White singled up the third-base line to lead off the fifth frame for the Rams. Her sister, Brittany White, bunted courtesy runner Courtney Barnes over to second.
Rebecca Aplin struck out, and Baldwin followed by bunting another ball up the third base line. The Rams stayed alive when Ashe County's third baseman misplayed the ball, allowing it to roll away. An out there would have ended the inning, keeping the score 1-0.
Starmount loaded the bases when Cave walked. Chelsea Varner then hit a pop up to shallow centerfield. Two Ashe players scrambled for it, but neither made the catch, allowing Barnes to cruise home for the score.
That was all the cushion Groce would need. She struck out 14 for the game, including two in the sixth inning and two in the seventh.
One of her seventh-inning K's happened to be against Yearick, in her final high school at-bat. The Ashe standout will play for Peace College next season. Yearick finishes this spring with an ERA well under 1.00 - but very few wins to show for it.
Both teams had runners thrown out at the plate in the fifth inning.
A couple of throwing errors by Starmount allowed Chandler Christensen to move around the bases after her leadoff single. But the Rams quickly made amends for the second miscue, a ball thrown into left field. Cave alertly scooped it up and rifled it back home to catcher Jessica White, who tagged Christensen out at the plate.
"We took care of business today," Courts said of her team. "I didn't want to use Courtney all seven innings but we had to."
The rest of the MVAC tournament will take place at Forbush High. Starmount will play the winner of Wilkes Central-Surry Central in Wednesday's MVAC semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Forbush will play either North Surry or North Wilkes in the late game.
The conference championship game will be Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Starmount and Forbush finished the regular season tied atop the MVAC standings, splitting with one another. The Falcons drew the No. 1 seed for the tournament out of a hat, thus earning a free pass through to the semifinals.
Whoever goes the deepest in this week's tournament between the Rams and Falcons will take the No. 1 seed for next week's state playoffs - a coveted position which means the chance to stay at home for several rounds.
Following the win over Ashe County, Courts wouldn't allow herself to start thinking about a potential third round in the Starmount-Forbush softball series too much.
"We can't even look there until we get (Wednesday's semifinal game) taken care of," she said.
Starmount 2, Ashe County 0
First Round Tuesday at Boonville