KEYSER — Next stop, the state tournament.
The Oak Glen softball team struck first against Keyser in Game 3, and thanks to strong pitching performances from Lizzie Kell and Maddie McKay the Golden Bears held on to defeat the Golden Tornado, 4-3, to capture the Class AA Region 1 title Wednesday at Ron Mathias and Friends Field.
“It is significant,” Oak Glen (28-1) head coach Sherrie Garner said. “It is a goal the girls set at the beginning of the season. We wanted to win OVACs, sectionals, regionals and to make it to the state tournament. It is great that we were able to achieve our goal. It is a great accomplishment.
“We have had a lot of success this season. We have played well all year. It means everything. It is great for the girls, and it is great for the community.”
The Golden Bears, who have not won a state title since 1998, have advanced to the state tournament Tuesday and Wednesday at Little Creek State Park. Oak Glen will play Independence (the winner of Region 3) at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday at Rock Field. Independence defeated Wyoming East, 15-1, Wednesday to win that series, 2-1. The state tournament is double elimination.
The Golden Bears last made it to the state tournament in 2017. Oak Glen also made it the season prior. The Golden Bears lost both games on the first day in 2016. They won the first game in 2017 before dropping their next two.
Oak Glen scored the first three runs against Keyser (28-5), but the Golden Tornado closed to within one run on two occasions before the Golden Bears slammed the door shut thanks to three straight strikeouts by McKay in the bottom of the seventh.
“You couldn’t stop trying to score,” Garner said. “You had to put as many runs as you could up. You had to try and score anyway you could whether it was by playing small ball or whatever. The kids came through. They had some big hits.”
Some may call it a surprise move, but Garner started Kell instead of McKay for the second straight game. Kell pitched well, en route to recording her first win of the series. She allowed two runs on two hits, while striking out nine and walking two in 4 1/3 innings. McKay relieved her with one out in the fifth, and the University of Toledo commit allowed one run on one hit, while striking out three without walking a batter in her 2 2/3 innings of work.
“They came ready to go. I call them the dynamic duo,” Garner said. “They played together during the regular season. Their pitching was absolutely key. It is a change of speed and going from a lefty to a righty. They were able to do their thing. They both did a tremendous job.”
Kell held Keyer hitless through the first four innings.
The Golden Tornado also used two pitchers. Alexa Shoemaker started, and she was saddled with the loss. Shoemaker allowed three runs on five hits, while striking out three and walking two in four-plus innings of work. Charity Wolfe relieved her during an at-bat, and allowed one run on one hit, while striking out three without walking a batter.
It is always important to score first, and the Golden Bears were able to do just that in the first.
McKay walked with two outs, advanced to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a base hit by Sarah Brown. She moved to second on a defensive indifference, and then Olivia Munoz followed with a single to right, scoring McKay and Brown to give the Golden Bears an early 2-0 lead.
Kell made the lead stand up, as she was dominant in the early innings. Kell collected six strikeouts through the first two innings. The sophomore struck out eight and added an assist through the first four. She struck out one batter in the fifth.
Oak Glen missed a golden opportunity to extend its lead in the third. Sydney Brown led off the inning with a single, and she moved up to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kell, but Shoemaker got out of the inning unscathed thanks to a double play.
The Golden Bears had another to break the game open in the fifth. Amber Moore and Grace Smith contributed back-to-back singles to start the inning, and Emma Renfro walked to load the bases with no outs. Shoemaker then fell behind Sydney Brown, 2-0, and she was replaced inside the circle by Wolfe.
Brown ended up hitting a sacrifice fly, scoring Moore for a 3-0 advantage. Unfortunately, that was the only run the visitors scored in the inning. The inning came to an end when Smith was tagged out trying to score on a passed ball.
Keyser answered right back in the bottom half of the inning. Morgan Pratt began with a single — the Golden Tornado’s first of the game. After a strikeout, Averi Everline launched a two-run home run to center cutting the Bears’ lead to 3-2. After the home run, McKay replaced Kell inside the circle, and she got out of the inning thanks to two groundouts.
Oak Glen responded immediately. McKay led off the frame by reaching on an error, and then with two outs advanced to second and third on two wild pitches before scoring on a single to right by Makayla Zoellers, giving the Golden Bears a 4-2 lead.
Hailey Massie homered to center with two outs in the home half of the inning to once again bring Keyser to within one run at 4-3.
“They hit five home runs in the series,” Garner said. “They are an amazing hitting team. You could tell that from looking at their stats. They could certainly hit the ball. You just try to avoid them hitting them with runners on base. When they get runners on base, that is when they do what they do the best. They gave us a fight for sure.”
The Golden Tornado had one last chance to tie the game, but McKay struck out the side in the seventh.
“We didn’t have any errors,” Garner said. “We made some put outs. We made some great plays. Alexis Holden at first did a great job. Maddie bobbled one ball at short, but she stuck with it and made the play. We made some good plays in the outfield. We got some pop-ups. We were able to get to the ball. You have to risk it. We had opportunities to make plays, and we were able to do that.”
Oak Glen made some mistakes in the first two games, but in Game 3 it was Keyser’s turn to make a costly mistake.
The Golden Bears won their first 26 games of the season before falling to the Golden Tornado, 3-2, in eight innings in Game 1 Monday on the road. Oak Glen defeated Keyser, 4-2, Tuesday at home to even the series at 1-1.
“We were behind against Columbiana during the regular season,” Garner said. “We had good competition against Weir. We were behind against them. We had to battle back. We won the one game in extra innings in the sectionals. We can come back if we have to.”
Oak Glen 4, Keyser 3
Oak Glen 2-0-0 0-1-1 0 — 4 6 0
Keyser 0-0-0 0-2-1 0 — 3 3 1
OAK GLEN (28-1): Kell (WP, 4 1/3IP, 2R, 2ER, 2H, 9K, 2BB), McKay (2 2/3IP, 1R, 1ER, 1H, 3K, 0BB) and Sa. Brown. Sy. Brown S, RBI; Sa. Brown S; Munoz S, 2RBIs; Zoellers S, RBI; Moore S; Smith S.
KEYSER (28-5): Shoemaker (LP, 4IP, 3R, 3ER, 5H, 3K, 2BB), Wolfe (3IP, 1R, 0ER, 1H, 3K, 0BB) and Massie. Massie HR, RBI; Pratt S; Everline HR, 2RBIs.