Fairlea – Having played with fire twice when matching up with Greenbrier East, the Red Dragons of St. Albans didn’t want to make those same mistakes again.
After suffering its first loss of last season in Game 1 of the regional series against Greenbrier East, St.Albans had to rally from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Spartans in Game 1 of this year’s regional championship on Tuesday.
The visitors from the Kanawha Valley took the dramatics out of the game early.
Jaden Conrad and Sydney Young blasted a pair of home runs in the third inning, providing reigning State Player of the Year Tayven Stephenson with all of the support she needed Wednesday as the Red Dragons clinched the Region 3 championship with a 6-2 victory over East in Fairlea.
With the win St. Albans returns to the state tournament a year after finishing as the runner-up in Class AAA and will face Region 4 winner Lincoln County Wednesday, May 25 on Craft Field in Little Creek Park in South Charleston.
“It’s awesome to go back,” St. Albans head coach Christian Watts said. “Last year we had six seniors and five of them were starters so not a whole lot of people gave us much of a chance of getting back there so to be standing here right now with that plaque and getting ready for next week is kind of surreal.”
Nearly falling behind after East put a pair of runners on the corners in the bottom of the second with just one out, Stephenson locked in securing a strikeout and a pop out to diffuse the threat.
The Red Dragons didn’t have to worry about standing runners in response.
Conrad drew first blood in the top of the third, hitting a towering two-run blast to ignite excitement in the visiting dugout. Young followed immediately with her own home run that made it 3-0, ultimately deciding the game.
“We stranded some runners early and that hurt,” East head coach Aaron Ambler said. “Certain parts of the lineup we didn’t get the production we needed. But (Stephenson) pitched a great game. She pitched a great game last night. We had pretty good energy today, but getting down 3-0 makes it tough when you know you have to scratch four out to win against a really good pitcher.”
The homers invoked a pitching change as Ambler tabbed Lilly Carola, who hadn’t pitched in the postseason due to injury. She was able to hold the Red Dragon offense scoreless with some help from her defense – a throw from center fielder Aubrey Glover to the plate saved a run in the fourth – but walks and errors proved to be the killers.
Young opened the fifth with her second walk of the evening and Kyndall “Punkie” Harper followed suit. Ava Bentley scored both runners when she hit into an error at second with one out, expanding the lead to 5-0.
Young struck again in the sixth, capping a 2-for-2 night with an RBI single for St. Albans’ final run of the game.
“(Greenbrier East pitcher) Josi (Ervin) did a good job mixing up pitches and keeping us off balance,” Watts said. “Our girls did a better job adjusting today. You know how it is. If you can get a couple runs for your pitcher it takes a lot of pressure off them.”
The Spartans, to their credit, kept battling, stringing together a pair of hits in both the sixth and seventh innings with Rylee Norman and Josi Ervin credited with an RBI double each but it made little difference on the final outcome.
“Tayven pitched her rear end off for us the last two days,” Watts said. “We did some boneheaded things that didn’t help her out too much last nigh but our defense made the plays behind her today and that’s why she’s reigning State Player of the Year. You have to feel good anytime you have a kid like Tayven in the circle.”
East finishes the season 13-12, falling in the regional round for the third season in a row while St. Albans will take a 25-5 mark with it to South Charleston next week.
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