HONAKER — Coeburn’s softball team missed several opportunities to win Friday’s Region D championship game against Virginia High.
But the Lady Knights simply refused to lose, and Catherine Nixon made sure that stubbornness paid off.
Nixon blasted a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning to give Coeburn a 5-1 victory and home-field advantage in Tuesday’s VHSL quarterfinal contest.
The win came one day after another 10-inning win over Powell Valley in the semifinals that left the Lady Knights fatigued, but not too tired to exact revenge on the team that ended their season last year.
“We love a good 10-inning game,” Coeburn coach Suzi Atwood quipped. “I think that 10 innings yesterday — we’re tired, we’re emotionally drained — but somehow they got a second wind in about the sixth inning.
“They played their hearts out and never gave up. You can’t ask for anything more.”
Virginia High eliminated Coeburn in the Region D semifinals a year ago, winning 2-1 on a walk-off single by Fallon Thomas. After the Lady Bearcats scratched across a run in the top of the fourth on Friday, they appeared to be headed for another narrow victory.
Up to that point, Coeburn was hitless and didn’t seem close to solving Virginia High starter Megan Thompson (11-1).
“That’s what I thought we’d do is fold up and let them beat us because we were so tired,” Coeburn pitcher Hannah Light said. “I’m really surprised we came to play today because yesterday was so emotional and we were so pumped up to beat (Powell Valley).”
Alana Johnson finally got a hit in the bottom of the fifth, but a baserunning error ended Coeburn’s threat. It turned out to be a sign of things to come, but through it all, Light kept her team in the game.
After going 10 innings inside the circle on Thursday, Light went the distance again on Friday and gave Coeburn a chance by shutting Virginia High down the rest of the way after surrendering the early run.
“I can’t even believe Hannah Light lasted 20 innings in two games,” Atwood said. “Unbelievable.”
Coeburn finally tied the game in the bottom of the seventh when Johnson knocked a single into right field, bringing Nixon home from second.
From there, the Lady Knights ran themselves out of a pair of golden opportunities to win the contest. With the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the eighth, a strikeout and a double play gave the Lady Bearcats new life.
The same thing happened in the ninth when Coeburn put runners on second and third with no outs and came away empty-handed again thanks to another baserunning blunder.
But Light kept plowing through Virginia High’s line-up, refusing to give up another winning run after surrendering one to Thomas last season.
“To beat Virginia High is probably one of my career highlights,” Light said. “We’ve been gunning for them for three years.
“Last year, we lost a heartbreaker. Our goal was to come back and we wanted them.”
When Coeburn loaded the bases with two outs in the tenth, Nixon came through. She launched a rocket shot that hugged the left-field line and stayed just inside the foul pole as it cleared the fence.
Nixon finished with three hits and four RBIs, and after struggling at the plate at times this season, she said she was relieved to come through in the clutch.
“I knew not to give up and I knew my team wouldn’t give up on me,” Nixon said. “I saw it in there and I just swung. I had no idea it was going to do that.”
Coeburn (21-4) will face Holston at home next Tuesday while Virginia High (20-5) will travel to face Bath County, the Region C champion.
Light (20-4), who scattered five hits and struck out 14 batters in 10 innings, said she is looking forward to three days of rest before Tuesday’s game.
“I’m dead,” she said. “I don’t think I could ever take that again, so I hope we don’t get in that situation again.”