GAULEY BRIDGE — Marty Carver considered giving his team a day off from practice Thursday.
However, Carver's Valley Greyhound softball players said they'd rather practice than sit as they await their next assignment in the Class A Region 3, Section 1 tournament. That was music to Carver's ears.
On Wednesday, the No. 1 seed Greyhounds put themselves in the driver's seat with a 3-0 victory over nemesis Fayetteville, the No. 3 seed, in a tournament game at Neal Field. Carver said the earliest the 'Hounds will play next in the double-elimination event is Saturday, while Fayetteville is looking at a Friday game with possible elimination on the line.
Mentioning near-misses in the postseason to Fayetteville in past years, Carver said of Wednesday's win, "It's a great feeling; I was almost in tears."
Carver said better communication is the primary difference between this year's squad and last year's team, which saw a three-run lead over Fayetteville in the section championship game evaporate as the Pirates prevailed in eight innings on their march to an eventual state tournament appearance. "We're talking to each other," said Carver. "We're getting behind each other. We're telling that we're close to the fence, move up, move back.
"What they learned last year and brought back to this year, it's really helping. They want it, and that's the difference. Last year, they were shocked they were in that position. This year, they know they can take it if they play hard."
On a 1-1 pitch with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Valley junior shortstop Gracie Gipson launched a two-run home run over the center field fence, staking the hosts to a 3-0 lead. Gipson's blast scored No. 9 hitter Katie Huddleston, who had doubled to left two batters earlier for her second hit of the evening.
Like Carver, Gipson was happy with the win over the Pirates. Beating their foe felt "so good, especially for the third time," she said. "I don't think we've ever beat them three times consecutively in a season."
"What really pushed us last year was communication, so we knew starting off this year as long as we communicate, as long as we're talking, then we come together as a team," she added.
"Today, they got a couple of hits in, and we didn't," said Fayetteville head coach Mike Roles. "They hit the ball good."
Roles said Valley pitcher Emmie Lopetrone made it difficult on his team. Lopetrone struck out 11 batters and limited the Pirates (9-19) to three singles. "(Lopetrone) pitched well, and our girl (Fayetteville pitcher Rachel Peelish had nine strikeouts and allowed five hits) pitched well."
Roles said his team simply needs to regroup. "We've just got to hit the ball better," he said. "We fielded well; we pitched well."
"Gracie stepped up, little Red (Huddleston) had two great big hits," Carver said. "And the girls are feeling it now. They're starting to have fun."
Huddleston singled to center in her first at-bat to lead off the third inning, and she was eventually brought home by a line-drive double to left off the bat of Mallory Kincaid, the 'Hounds' first-game hero, to give Valley a 1-0 lead.
"We just came in feeling like we were going to win and knowing that we were capable of beating them," explained Huddleston. "We just came together as a team."
Although they're still undefeated in Section 1, the key for the Greyhounds (11-9) is to maintain their poise and the momentum, said Carver.
"Practice starts again tomorrow," he said. "We're going to stay after it. We're not taking time off.
"I was asking if they want (to take the day off Thursday), but they want to practice. It's a great feeling."
F: 000 000 0 — 0 3 0
V: 001 020 x — 3 5 2
F: Rachel Peelish and Kaysie Cogar; V: Emmie Lopetrone and Jayden Chapman. WP: Lopetrone, LP: Peelish. Hitting: F: Rachel Peelish 1-3, Nikki Holbrook 1-3, Skylar Richards 1-3; V: Gracie Gipson 1-3 (hr, 2 RBIs), Mallory Kincaid 1-3 (2b, RBI), Katie Huddleston 2-2 (2b), Abigail Taylor 1-2.
• • •
On Thursday in Class A Region 3, Section 1 play, No. 2 seed Midland Trail plated five runs in the first two innings en route to an 8-2 defeat of visiting Richwood in an elimination game.
Zavery McManaway was 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs to power the Midland Trail offense. Serena Minor was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, and Taylor Harrell was 2-for-4 with a double and one RBI. Kyleigh Jackson, Meghan Gill, Faith Bailes, Alex Ellison and Emily Dickerson provided a base hit apiece.
Harrell earned the pitching win, striking out two and allowing two hits.
Caylie Snyder was 1-for-2 with a double and a pair RBIs for the Lumberjacks, and Kiara Smith was 1-for-3 with a double.
The win advanced the Patriots to an elimination game with rival Fayetteville, the No. 3 seed. Weather permitting, that contest will be played at 6 p.m. Friday at Hico.
Fayetteville defeated Trail 9-6 earlier in the tournament.
On Wednesday, the Patriots disposed of Charleston Catholic 6-1.
For Trail, Gill was 2-for-3 with a triple and drove in three runs, Chezney Skaggs was 1-for-3 with a triple, Kyleigh Jackson was 1-for-3 with a double, and Minor and Bailes each drove in a run.
Striking out four and surrendering four hits, Gill notched the mound verdict.
For the Irish, Fran George was 2-for-3, and Kelly Kreitzer and Sophie Veazey were each 1-for-3.
Pitcher Olivia Corbett struck out eight and yielded eight hits. She allowed only one earned run.
• • •
In Class AA Region 3, Section 1 earlier this week, Oak Hill was eliminated with a 21-2 setback to Westside followed by a 9-1 loss to Liberty. The Red Devils concluded the campaign at 15-12.
In Class A Region 3, Section 2, Meadow Bridge lost its two outings.
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