SALEM – Coming off their first loss, the Panthers weren’t about to let another slow start doom their season on the doorstep of the state title game.
Sophomore shortstop Kate Gordon made sure of that.
The James Madison commit lifted a leadoff home run over the left field fence in the top of the first inning as Page County High School went on to defeat Dan River 6-2 in the 2A state softball semifinals Friday at the Moyer Complex.
“I think we figured out we hate losing more than we love winning, so we came together as a team,” PCHS junior starting pitcher Kare Breeden said.
The Panthers (24-1) earned a rematch with King William for the 2A state championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at Radford University. The Cavaliers (23-2), who beat Page 3-0 in the 2A East regional final, defeated 2013 Division 2 state champion Floyd County 12-2 in the other state semifinal.
Without any seniors, Dan River finished its season 16-7 under coach Ryan Scolpini.
“We didn’t have the key hits when we needed them. And they did,” Dan River sophomore pitcher Kaitlyn Aherron said. “We just needed to hit.”
Breeden will likely start Saturday for Page County, which has relied all season on coaching “instinct” and “feel” when cycling three pitchers.
“We’ll see how the game goes,” Knight said. “We’d love Kare to throw seven innings.”
After giving up a leadoff triple to Aherron, Breeden kept the next 10 batters hitless over three scoreless innings of work. She walked the first batter of the fourth inning before coming out of the circle in favor of junior Rachel McCoy, who provided the defensive spark for the error-free Panthers.
At third base, McCoy caught a line drive off the bat of Jaclyn Owens in the first inning and swung her glove to tag out Aherron, completing a critical double play.
“That was huge,” Knight said. “…Big mo jumped a couple times that first inning.”
Making its first state tournament appearance since 2006, the Panthers were firing on all cylinders. Still, it took three final outs in the bottom of the seventh – including a bare-handed play on a groundball to junior third baseman Lauren Kite – for Breeden to exhale.
“I get so nervous that I feel like I can’t even talk to anybody, because I feel like I’m going to get sick,” Breeden said. “That’s every game.”
Gordon finished 2-for-3 with her 11th home run of the season. She also doubled, scored twice and drove in two runs.
Aherron went the distance for Dan River with seven strikeouts, going 3-for-4 at the plate.
Sophomore left fielder Savanah Plum went 2-for-3 with two leadoff doubles for Page, including a line drive past the third baseman that began a four-run fifth inning.
“All year long, different people have hit for us,” Knight said. “Probably people like Savanah Plum and Kate Gordon have struggled the last couple games, and people like Rachel McCoy and [Allison] Breeden – through conference play and regional play – are getting two or three hits a game.”
Gordon blooped an RBI double to shallow left field during the rally, and senior second baseman Allison Breeden followed with a run-scoring single, advancing to third on an error. Kite capped the big inning with an RBI single.
“It was really exciting,” Gordon said. “We were pumped the whole game. Our energy levels were just up. In practice, we had the energy all week.”
The Wildcats had five of their seven hits in the final two innings, but could not rally. First baseman Amber Brooke Cassada – one of just four juniors on the roster for Dan River – snapped the shutout with a full-count RBI single to center field in the fifth, scoring Aherron.
McCoy allowed two runs on four hits with two strikeouts and no walks to earn the win in three innings of relief. A victory that puts Page into the state championship game for the first time since 2004.
“I think it’s just tremendous for these kids,” Knight said. “We put in a lot of time. …We don’t practice for an hour and a half. We’re two and a half hours. Three. That’s something we’ve always done and these kids buy into it and we’ve had success.”
Page County 200 040 0 – 6 8 0
Dan River 000 001 1 – 2 7 3
K. Breeden, McCoy (4), Dean (7) and Wilcher; Aherron and Cook. W—McCoy. L—Aherron. HR—Page: Gordon (11).