GAULEY BRIDGE — The Valley Greyhounds got some timely base hits when they needed them most, and the result was a 6-3 victory over Fayetteville in the Class A Region 3, Section 1 softball championship game Tuesday at Neal Field.
Junior first baseman Kayla Graves, who will graduate early as Valley High — like Fayetteville — faces closure at the end of the school term, was 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and four RBIs as the 'Hounds rallied from a 2-1 deficit to earn the triumph and eliminate Fayetteville from postseason play. It marked Valley's first softball sectional championship in eight years.
Valley (12-9) will host Section 2 winner Greenbrier West at 6 p.m. Monday to begin the best 2-of-3 championship series. The Cavaliers, who defeated Valley 3-2 in the only meeting in the regular season, topped Montcalm 9-1 in the Section 2 title matchup Tuesday.
Achieving a long-held goal of winning the section trophy and advancing deeper in the postseason, Graves said she and her teammates have been working hard together for several years and finally crossed at least the first important postseason threshold.
"We haven't won sectionals forever, so it means a lot to our team, especially since it's our last year," Graves said.
The crucial hit for Graves came with the game knotted at 2-all in the bottom of the fifth inning. Emmie Lopetrone and Katie Huddleston both reached on singles, Mallory Kincaid advanced them to second and third base with a sacrifice bunt, then Gracie Gipson got aboard on a single to load the bases with one out. Graves then stepped to the plate and banged a double into right field, clearing the bases and handing the Greyhounds a 5-2 lead.
"It's about time," said Graves, who also had a run-scoring two-bagger in the first inning. "I haven't been hitting very often, but I guess it happened when we actually needed it.
"We were nervous, but after the first inning, we were fine. We just needed to get our bats going, and after we get our bats going ..."
"Kayla, she got in a slump, and we battled with her and worked with her and now she's back on target," said Valley head coach Marty Carver. "We had one inning with four or five hits and scored those runs and we took it back.
"There's no feeling like this. It's great to see the girls come out and play their game. We had a few base running errors, but we overcame them. We kept hitting the ball and hitting the ball and here we are."
After Valley grabbed an early 1-0 lead, the Pirates fought back with RBI singles from Cassidy Roles and Brooke Spangler to assume a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth.
Valley then tied it at 2-2 on Kaylee Ryan's RBI single in the bottom of the fourth.
Fayetteville head coach Mike Roles said Graves' run-clearing blast was "the difference maker."
"They battled back and tied it and they had the one big inning," he said. "They had the bases loaded, and she (Graves) hit the ball pretty good.
"It was a great game back and forth. I told the girls to keep their chins up and keep working. It's been a fun year."
"Fayetteville's a good team," Carver said. "From the first time we've played them until now, it's a whole different ball team.
"I hated to see their catcher (Kaysie Cogar) get hurt (against Midland Trail the previous night)."
Valley pitcher Emmie Lopetrone went the distance to secure the mound triumph, and she was 2-for-3 at the plate and knocked in Valley's final run in the bottom of the sixth, a tally which gave the 'Hounds a 6-2 cushion.
Kincaid and Haley Myers also produced base hits for Valley.
Fayetteville plated its third run in the top of the seventh, but Valley's Brittany Bennett eventually pulled in a pop fly on the infield fringe for the third out, setting the Greyhounds' celebration in motion.
"We had a real good practice yesterday, hitting-wise, all aspects ... and it paid off," Carver said. "The hard work that these girls have done, they're seeing the rewards now."
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F: 000 200 1 — 3 7 0
V: 100 131 x — 6 9 0
F: Rachel Peelish, Brooke Spangler (6) and Annie Johnson; V: Emmie Lopetrone and Jayden Chapman. WP: Lopetrone, LP: Peelish. Hitting: F: Spangler 1-3 (RBI), Cassidy Roles 1-3 (RBI); V: Kayla Graves 3-3 (2 2b, 4 RBIs), Lopetrone 2-3 (RBI), Kaylee Ryan 1-2 (RBI)