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EMORY – When Chilhowie High School left fielder Ellen Vance settled under a pop fly off the bat of Galax’s Ally Bartlett and the ball plunked into her glove, it marked the final out and a first for her team.
Chilhowie claimed the biggest win in the history of the school’s softball program – and took home the first title trophy – on Wednesday with a 7-1 victory over Galax in the finals of the Mountain West Conference tournament at Patrick Henry High School.
Chilhowie first fielded a softball team in 1998 and while the Warriors had been competitive they hadn’t been championship caliber until this spring.
It was fitting that Vance, a senior who also spearheaded Chilhowie’s offensive attack, caught the final out. She and catcher KiKi Murphy are four-year starters and both had been seeking a win like Wednesday’s.
“We’ve worked hard this year; harder than we’ve ever worked and when we play up to our potential there’s nothing we can’t do,” Vance said. “We’ve had good teams, but this is the best one we’ve had.”
A slapper and the ninth hitter in Chilhowie’s batting order, Vance hit two grounders that went for errors and also collected an infield single. She put Chilhowie (15-6) on the board in the third inning when she scored on Haley Caudill’s RBI single.
She scored two runs and stole three bases.
“She’s a good spark,” said Chilhowie coach John Sabo. “She’s got speed and if she puts the ball on the ground, she’s going to get to first base. You get her on and then you have [leadoff hitter Mary] Luttrell coming up and you have some speed.”
Galax coach Beth Walker agreed that Vance was the difference-maker.
“You don’t see a lot of slappers in our region – a couple,” she said. “That was just a different look than what we’ve seen. We practice it, but it’s just different when it comes game time.”
Lauren Kestner had a two-run single, while Emily Smarr also drove in a run for Chilhowie. The Warriors, who have hit 21 home runs this season, had just five hits for the second straight game.
Galax suffered 20-6 and 12-0 losses to Chilhowie during the regular season, but the Maroon Tide hung tough on Wednesday. Galax’s only run came in the sixth when Kylee Hill singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lauren Garvey. Tayler Ashworth, Abby Dalton and Garvey accounted for the Maroon Tide’s other three hits.
“Oh my gosh, yes, we’ve improved a whole lot,” said Walker. “The last two times we’ve played Chilhowie I think we’ve been run-ruled and those weren’t very good games. I have a couple of girls that play a lot of summer ball and play year-round, but a majority of them don’t so it takes a whole season to start peaking.”
The Warriors will host a first-round game in the Region 1A West tournament while the Maroon Tide will travel for its region opener.
Galax 2, Patrick Henry 1: The Maroon Tide punched its ticket to the Region 1A West tournament with Tuesday’s win on the Rebels’ home field.
Patrick Henry freshman Madison Booth retired the first 12 batters she faced, 11 via strikeout, before Holly Cassell’s double to begin the bottom of the fifth inning.
PH held a 1-0 lead with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, but clutch RBI hits by Bartlett and Cassell put Galax ahead to stay.
“We just needed to get a spark against [Booth],” said Walker.
Booth finished with 17 strikeouts in a five-hitter. Meanwhile, Galax sophomore ace Lauren Garvey notched 12 Ks and tossed a three-hitter of her own.
“We had our chances to win that game. Madison threw a wonderful game,” said Patrick Henry coach Eric Crabtree. “We played well enough to win, but they hit it when they needed to and we didn’t. That’s the way it goes.”