BRISTOL, Va. — Gate City’s softball program may once again be a force in the Region D softball tournament. But not this year.
Lebanon’s Lori Witt narrowly avoided an early shelling and went on to pitch six strong innings as the Lady Pioneers beat the Lady Blue Devils 3-1 in the Clinch Mountain District tournament semifinals at Belle Meadows Park.
In the nightcap, Virginia High’s Fallon Thomas stole third and scored on a throwing error to break a 10-inning stalemate, and the Lady Bearcats prevailed 4-3 over John Battle.
Virginia High (17-4) will face Lebanon (8-11) in tonight’s 7 o’clock championship game.
“As long as these girls stay focused, they can battle all the way,” said Lebanon coach Sheila Adams, whose team clinched its second consecutive trip to the Region D tournament.
Witt (1-1) was on the rocks early, giving up four hits to Gate City in the first inning — a predicament further complicated by a Lebanon error.
But Gate City (7-13) managed to plate only one run during that two-outs rally. Eboné Everette made a baserunning error between second and third that resulted in an interference call for the third out, robbing Tess Lane of an RBI.
“With Eboné, that’s just inexperience. She’s only a freshman,” said Gate city coach Sarah Bellamy. “That’s just something that we’ve got to work on.”
Leadoff hitter Ashlee Mustard, who scored on a passed ball in the first frame, rapped a stranded double in the second inning. After that, Witt held the Lady Blue Devils hitless and scoreless over the next five innings.
“We didn’t hit when we needed to. We got on top quick but we didn’t stay on top. We just didn’t hit,” said Bellamy, whose squad split with all district opponents during the regular season.
Lebanon tied the game at 1 on Meredith Farmer’s RBI groundout in the fourth inning. Farmer contributed a sacrifice bunt in the sixth that set up Witt’s go-ahead run.
Katie Smith, who went 2-for-4 with three stolen bases, added the Pioneers’ insurance run in the seventh.
Pitcher Tirzah Lane (7-12) struck out five en route to the season-ending loss. Mustard led the Lady Blue Devils lineup, going 2-for-4.
Witt went 2-for-4 for Lebanon (8-11), and Kayla Weese was 2-for-3 with a double.
The regular-season champion Lady Bearcats (17-4) dodged an upset in a showdown that entertained spectators and irritated Virginia High coach Barry Reed.
Thomas wrapped up the game with one out in the 10th with a marginal single that she stretched into two bases thanks to a mental error in the field. On the subsequent steal, Battle catcher Kayla Wright’s throw whizzed past third baseman Alena Shortridge.
Thomas, a leadoff hitter with nothing to show for four previous plate appearances, bolted for home.
While the Lady Trojans (10-12) ended their season on an error, Reed thought they were a better team than advertised.
“I’ve always thought John Battle was probably the second-best team in the season. It’s unfortunate that they hadn’t won as many games as they would’ve liked. But they showed tonight that they were an outstanding softball team,” Reed said.
Nikki Nelms went 3-for-4 for the Lady Bearcats, who tied the game at 3 with a seventh-inning rally that Battle nipped in the bud with a double play. Freshman Megan Thompson (10-0) went the distance for the win.
Battle pitcher Kara Rutherford (9-8) retired the side in four of her innings pitched and helped herself with an RBI triple. Shortridge went 2-for-3, including a triple.