Gallery by Greg Barnett
Bluefield – Near the end of her career with nearly 1,000 strikeouts to her name, Independence hurler Delaney Buckland finished with just one Thursday against Bluefield.
Yet somehow that was enough.
Buckland scattered eight hits against the Beavers in the Class AA Region 3 championship, helping the Patriots even up their best-of-3 series with a 9-1 victory in Bluefield.
With the win Indy forces a decisive Game 3 back in Coal City on Friday.
With Buckland’s approach different than usual, the pressure was applied to her defense in a way it never has been throughout her career.
After whiffing early, the rest of the Patriots backed their ace the rest of the way.
“We talked about, we knew you couldn’t throw chase pitches to (the umpire) because he’s not going to give it to you and they are pretty disciplined at the plate,” Indy head coach Ken Adkins said. “Their goal is to put it in play. What we wanted to do was nibble and try to get them to put some mis-hits in play. That’s what we did today. Yesterday we didn’t hit spots and they lit some balls up. It felt like every inning somebody was hitting the ball hard. Delaney wasn’t happy with how she pitched yesterday and she had a lot more velocity and spin today and you could tell that. It’s hard to hit the ball when she’s on. We played good defense and put the ball in play today.”
The Beavers tested Indy’s defense early with Grace Richardson reaching on an error at short and taking second on a bunt. Buckland’s lone strikeout of the evening followed for the second out but a ground ball single hit off of Buckland by Maddy Lawson scored Richardson for Bluefield’s only run of the evening.
The rest of the game featured missed opportunities for the Beavers on offense as they stranded seven runners and never found the gaps in the defense.
“We’ve made contact with the ball the last two nights,” Bluefield head coach Barry Reed said. “I realize people have had trouble putting the ball in play against her all year long, but that’s not been our issue.”
On offense the Patriots matched their output on defense with patient approaches at the plate coupled with timely hits. They worked the count to the tune of nine walks, seven against Bluefield starter Izzy Smith. The free passes hurt immediately.
A one-out error in right field allowed Indy a baser runner in the top of the second after which Smith issued her first walk. She forced a flyout against the No. 9 hitter but walked Buckland in the leadoff spot to load the bases. Alli Hypes promptly unloaded them with a line drive double over the centerfielder to put Indy up 3-1.
“At this stage in the game if you walk nine people you’re going to lose,” Reed said. “We know that. Last night is was one inning. We had a chance to win but again when you struggle with your control at this level you’re going to lose.”
The visitors tacked on a other run in the top of the third on a Kassidy Bradbury groundout, erupting for their final five runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
A pair of one-out singles and an error at third base loaded the bases for Bradbury in the sixth and she added her second and third RBIs of the game with a single before Harmony Mills followed with a groundout to score Kendall Martin and make it a 7-1 game.
The finishing touches came in the following inning when getting the second out again became a task for the Beavers with five straight batters reaching, with two scoring, before the second and third outs were recorded.
Bluefield’s last gasp came in the bottom of the frame when it loaded the bases but Buckland recorded her final groundout to tie the series.
“I told them that we’ve got to be able to field ground balls,” Adkins said. “We probably take more ground balls than anybody in America. We take ground balls all the time so those are plays we can make. I tell them all the time, ‘Make the routine play and we’ll leave the Sportscenter play.’ You’ll make one of those every now and then but make the routine play, get decent pitching, hit the ball and we’ll be in games.”
The series shifts back to Coal City with the winner of Game 3 playing in next week’s state tournament at Little Creek State Park in South Charleston.
The Patriots are seeking their first trip back since 2021 while Bluefield has never played in the state tournament. The Beavers however will be a player short. Cara Brown, the team’s starting left fielder and No. 6 hitter, will compete in four separate events in the state track meet on Friday in Charleston.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @tjack94