RIO GRANDE, Ohio — A five-run margin ending a four-year drought.
The Eastern softball team is headed to its first district final since 2014, as the fourth-seeded Lady Eagles defeated ninth-seeded Paint Valley by an 8-3 count in the Division IV district semifinal on Tuesday at RedStorm Softball Park in Gallia County.
Eastern (14-7) reached base safely in each of the first four frames, but couldn’t break the scoreless tie until the top of the fifth inning. Emmalea Durst doubled to lead off the frame, moved to third on a sac-bunt from Faith Smeeks, and then scored on a bunt single from Kennadi Rockhold.
Megan Maxon singled home Kennadi Rockhold in the very next at-bat, and eventually scored on a two-out error, giving the Lady Eagles a 3-0 edge at the end of the fifth inning.
The Lady Eagles added another run in the top of the sixth, with Kelsey Casto scoring on a sac-fly from Durst. Eastern plated four insurance runs in the top of the seventh, with one-run singles by Ally Barber and Tessa Rockhold, followed by a two-run basehit from Casto.
After just four total baserunners in the first six innings, Paint Valley loaded the bases with an error and back-to-back hits to start the bottom of the seventh. Another error allowed the Lady Bearcats to end the shut out, then a bases loaded walk and an RBI grounder brought the Black and Gold to within five runs. PVHS left the potential tying run in the on-deck circle, however, falling by an 8-3 final.
Following the district semifinal victory, sixth-year EHS head coach Bryan Durst discussed getting back to the round-of-32, as well as what changed for his offense as the night progressed.
“I told the girls before the game, it takes something special,” said Durst. “Alexus Metheney pitched a great game. Honestly, I think we were a little anxious in the beginning. Kind of like our last game, once we finally got relaxed and got some good swings, we started hitting line-drives. Early in the game we hit a lot of flyballs, and once we changed that, you saw what we can do, we scored a lot of runs.”
Metheney was the winning pitcher of record in 6-plus innings of work for EHS, allowing three runs, one earned, on five hits, while striking out three and walking none. Tessa Rockhold finished the game for the victors, walking a pair of batters.
Abbi Stanforth took the loss in a complete game for PVHS, striking out one batter and surrendering eight runs, seven earned, on 12 hits and a walk.
Tessa Rockhold led the Lady Eagles at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a run scored and a run batted in. Megan Maxon was 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI, Casto was 2-for-4 with one run and two RBIs, while Barber went 2-for-4, scored once and drove in one run.
Emmalea Durst doubled once, scored once and drove in one run for the Lady Eagles, while Kennadi Rockhold and Cera Grueser both singled once and scored once, with Rockhold also earning an RBI.
Stanforth led the Lady Bearcats at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a run scored. Lea McFadden doubled once for PVHS, Chloe Manion singled once and scored once, while Ashleigh Campagne came up with a single. Olivia Smith and Charlize Boggs each claimed an RBI, while Haylee Vaughn scored a run.
Both teams had three errors in the contest, and Paint Valley left seven runners on base, three more that Eastern.
Coach Durst also talked about his team’s ability to fill in for starting shortstop Mollie Maxon, who left the sectional title game with an injury.
“All-year-long we’ve been able to interchange a bunch of pieces, because you never know what injuries are going to happen, or what situation you’re going to be in,” Durst said. “We have done a very nice job preparing for that. For us it’s the next girl up, and it seems like whoever gets that opportunity, they’re making the most of it. We’re really excited and ready to go Saturday.”
On Saturday, the Lady Eagles will meet third-seeded Peebles at 11 a.m. in Rio Grande, with EHS in search of its first district title since 2003.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.