INSTITUTE, W.Va. – The West Liberty University softball team split a wild doubleheader with West Virginia State here Friday in an early-season meeting of Mountain East Conference powers.
After having their 10-game winning streak snapped in a frustrating 2-1 walk-off loss in the first game, Coach Herb Minch's Hilltoppers (15-9, 5-1) avenged that setback with an 11-10 victory over the Yellowjackets (8-10, 5-1) in a 9-inning nightcap.
That second game was a see-saw affair from the start. Six of West Virginia State's first seven batters reached base and four of them scored as the hosts jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead. West Liberty answered with three runs in the third and four more in the top of the fourth to take a 7-4 advantage but it didn't last long.
The Yellowjackets batted around in the bottom of the inning to plate five runs and take a 9-7 lead into the fifth. The Hilltoppers got single runs in each of the next three innings to go up 10-9 heading into the bottom of the seventh. With WLU one out away from victory, State's Lindsey Phares ripped a two-out RBI double into right-center to force extra innings.
The teams traded zeros in the eighth inning but two-out lightning struck for WLU in the ninth when Annie Paterson smoked a 1-2 pitch into the hole between third and short for a single. Kieran Johnson followed with a ringing double just inside the third base bag that brought Paterson sprinting all the way around from third with the go-ahead run.
The Yellowjackets got the tying run to second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth but Taylor Bonnett retired the last two batters to finish off the thrilling win. Bonnett got the victory in relief, holding the hard-hitting hosts to just one run on four hits over the last 5 2/3 innings.
West Liberty pounded out 16 hits in the game. Grace Swigart had three doubles to drive in a pair of runs while Paterson added a double and two singles. Leadoff hitter Sidney Little had three singles and scored three runs while Johnson finished with a double, single and two RBIs. Kayla Mancuso had a double and a single while Katie Beeman had a two-run single and a run-scoring fielder’s choice.
The win in the second game took some of the sting out of the opening-game loss for the Black and Gold. It was a classic pitchers’ duel between Paterson and WVSU ace Autumn Thompson as neither team could break through on the scoreboard until the seventh.
The Hilltoppers drew first blood with a perfect squeeze bunt from Riley Conkle for a 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh. Paterson gave herself a little extra breathing room by ripping an RBI single up the middle and returned to the circle looking to close out a three-hit shutout.
Paige Scruggs took the zero off West Virginia State's side of the scoreboard with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the seventh. Paterson got the next hitter to loft a seemingly-harmless popup on the infield but the Hilltoppers were unable to make the catch.
The error put the tying run on base but Paterson struck out the next two batters to put WLU one out away from victory but it wasn't in the cards.
Another infield error and an intentional walk loaded the bases before the Yellowjackets' Phares blooped a two-run single just over the second baseman's head for the walk-off win.
Paterson took the tough-luck loss, giving up one earned run over 6 2/3 innings while striking out 12 and walking two. Conkle had two singles and an RBI while Mancuso also slapped out a pair of singles in a losing cause.
Weather permitting, the Hilltoppers return to Kanawha County on Sunday for a 1 p.m. doubleheader at Charleston.
(2 out when winning run scored)
W.Va. State 3, West Liberty 2
West Liberty 000 000 2 – 2 7 2
W.Va. State 000 000 3 – 3 5 1
WLU: Paterson lp (12SO, 2W) and M.Blair. Conkle 2S, rbi; Mancuso 2S; Paterson S, rbi
WVS: Thompson lp (5SO, 2W) and Lambert. Thompson D, S; Scruggs HR, rbi; Phares S, 2rbi
West Liberty 11, W.Va. State 10
West Liberty 003 411 101 – 11 16 1
W.Va. State 400 500 100 – 10 9 5
WLU: Bennington (0SO, 4W), Amend (1) (5SO, 4W), Bonnett wp (4) (1SO, 1W) and M.Blair. Swigart 3D, 2rbi; Paterson D, 2S, rbi; Little 3S; Johnson D, S, 2rbi; Mancuso D, S; Beeman S, 3rbi
WVSU: Shoemaker (2SO, 0W), Moore (3) (0SO, 0W), Walker lp (4) (4SO, 1W) and Baron, Lambert (5). Phares 2D, rbi; K.Moore 2S, rbi; Ruth D, 2rbi; Scruggs S, 3rbi; E.Moore S, rbi; Dillow S, rbi; Thompson D