Gallery by Greg Barnett
Princeton – Having lost to Princeton in its only other matchup with the Tigers, Beckley knew it had to hone in to avoid falling into the losers bracket.
Behind Aubrey Smallwood and a string of solid hits the Flying Eagles did just that.
The visitors from Beckley squeezed out three runs in the sixth inning and held off a Princeton rally to defeat the second-seeded Tigers 4-2 Tuesday in the Class AAA Region 3, Section 2 tournament in Princeton.
With the win Beckley, the No. 3 seed, will travel to No. 1 Greenbrier East on Wednesday (weather permitting) while Princeton will host No. 4 Oak Hill.
Through five innings both teams relied on their aces to carry them and they did. Smallwood was perfect through five innings, eventually finishing with 17 strikeouts while Princeton’s Emma Johnson blanked Beckley’s offense over that same span.
But the third time through the order both lineups keyed in, taking advantage of balls in play.
“We’ve been talking about two (strikes left) for them and one’s for the team,” Beckley head coach Tony Maiolo said. “We’ve been telling them to choke up and slap it a little bit and I think a few of them started to do that even before they gave up themselves a little bit. They tried to put something in play so that made me happy.”
Jazzy Daubert got the action rolling with a leadoff single deep in the hole at short in the top of the sixth for Beckley. Aubrey Smallwood and Brooke Bird added a pair of one-out hits that squeaked through the infield with the latter’s scoring Daubert. Presley Bailey drove in Smallwood’s courtesy runner with a groundout to make it 2-0 and Katelyn Hamb piled on with a double off the tip of the left fielder’s glove that scored Bird to extend Beckley’s advantage to 3-0.
In a hole and trailing against a pitcher they hadn’t solved all evening, the Tigers responded immediately.
Peyton Agnew broke up the perfect game in the bottom of the sixth with a single and Abbigail Farley followed with a walk. An error at first base allowed Riley Riggs to reach at the top of the lineup with one out, plating Agnew. Smallwood settled in though to strikeout the next two batters, stranding a pair on base.
“A lot of people that aren’t around the softball program here don’t realize this is the first winning season Princeton has had since maybe the ’90s,” Princeton head coach Craig Johnson said. “We were 12-11 in the regular season and that’s a big deal for us. The reason why we won that many games is these girls don’t quit. They keep on going and all we work on is fundamentals and positivity and as long as they stay positive they keep playing.”
That optimism carried into the bottom seventh despite Beckley getting that run back on a Smallwood RBI single in the top of the frame.
Emma Johnson led off the bottom of the seventh with a single and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice that didn’t result in an out, putting the tying run on base for the host Tigers. But once again Smallwood weathered the storm with a strikeout and groundout to secure the victory.
“I knew we were coming into sectionals and I had to be stronger than I was before,” Smallwood said. “Taking the loss against Princeton was a little bit rough for us. We did not expect that so tonight I knew I had to be on my A game.”
“It was a humbling moment for us,” Smallwood continued. “It showed us what we needed to work on to better ourselves and I came from Independence the game before and I was tired but I need to learn how to push through games like that and not struggle like I did last time.”
Up next Beckley aims to snap a skid against rival Greenbrier East which swept the Flying Eagles in the regular season and beat them in last year’s sectional tournament in Beckley while Princeton aims to stave off elimination against Oak Hill.
“We’re excited to play them,” Smallwood said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game and come down to who makes the first error. We’re excited because we really want to beat them. They whooped us last time so it’s about time for a revenge game.”
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