The mission for the WVU Tech softball team was clear this weekend at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
Playing a doubleheader against Carlow (PA.) University Friday and Alice Lloyd College (KY) Saturday, the Golden Bears needed two wins to secure a spot in the River States Conference tournament played next week.
In a steady rain Friday, WVU Tech wasted no time taking care of business with a sweep of the Celtics before closing out the weekend by splitting the two games with the Eagles.
The Golden Bears took game one Friday, 10-2 in six innings before securing a 7-1 win in the nightcap to punch their ticket to the postseason.
After the Celtics took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning, Tech answered with four in the bottom half of the frame and five runs in the fourth.
Maggie Richards provided the offensive power with two doubles and four RBI. Macy Wilkens had a home run and drove in a pair of runs, while Brianna Stevenson added two doubles. Scarlet Janney hit an RBI-triple in the third inning.
With its ace in the circle for game two, the home team put three runs on the board in the second inning to give Courtney Miles all the help she would need.
A double from former Independence all-stater Nicole Kester drove in the first run of the game before Richards doubled home two more for the three-run advantage.
Wilkens and Stevenson also hit two-baggers for the Golden Bears.
Having secured a spot in the postseason, WVU Tech head coach Amber Affholter had a bit of a different game-plan for the double dip with Alice Lloyd.
“Today I am trying to get everybody in the game since these are the last games before we go to the conference tournament,” Affholter said between games Saturday. “It gives them an opportunity to show me that they can hit the ball this week or make great plays in the field. It also lets them know that everybody is capable of playing and winning.”
WVU Tech scored two runs in the fifth inning to take a one run lead, before the Eagles answered with a pair of runs in the sixth for a 4-3 win.
The bright spot for the Golden Bears in the opener was former Greenbrier East standout Gabby Pyles who had four hits, including a double, in four trips to the plate. Pyles was also solid in the field, making several solid plays at third base.
“Gabby played great today. That is also the first time she has played at third base this season,” Affholter said. “For her to go 4-for-4 was huge for her. She needed that confidence booster going to next week.”
The Golden Bears made short work of the Eagles in the second game after falling behind 1-0 in the top of the first frame.
Kester tied the game in the bottom of the inning with her first home run of the season before a six-run explosion in the second all but sealed the win.
“My girls have been working really hard and I feel like we have finally found our niche on the field. We have a couple of girls that like to hit back-to-back and they feed off of each other,” Affholter said. “I think it is important to have chemistry. Our chemistry on the mound and behind the plate has been much better and I feel like that is why we are where we are right now.”
Mackenzie Holley, who also hails from Independence, doubled home the first run of the second inning before swiping third base. After Kester was walked, she did not stop at first, drawing the pitchers attention.
Holley promptly stole home for a 3-1 lead for WVU Tech.
After the Golden Bears worked the bases full, Wilkens broke the game open when she doubled to clear the sacks and later scored on a single from Janney.
Tech add one more in the third inning and three more in the fourth for the final margin. Miles closed out the game pitching the final two innings and struckout five of the six batters she faced.
“Courtney is a senior and she has definitely been dominant in the circle,” Affholter said. “She has been River States Conference Pitcher of the Week three times now.”
While Miles has been baffling opponents in the circle, Kester has put together a strong senior season batting .358 with 19 extra base hits. Kester has a .415 on base percentage and .560 slugging percentage.
Wilkens is hitting .333 with 22 runs batted in and three home runs. The sophomore slugger also has a .516 slugging percentage, while freshman Olivia Barnett from Shady Spring is batting .311.
The pleasant surprise of the season has been Janney who is hitting .329 with 24 RBI and three home runs. She has a .420 on base percentage and .586 slugging percentage.
“Janney didn’t get much playing time up until this year. She is a junior and has been a standout at third base,” Affholter said. “She has been smashing the ball and making great plays. Hailea Skeens has stepped up this year playing right field. She is from (Sherman). Hailea has made some great plays out there and she can move runners whether she is hitting or bunting.”
Just like she did in Coal City, Holley has made a huge impact for Tech in the outfield.
“Mackenzie had an ESPN (top-10 type play) last week out in left field that was awesome. She has been starting almost every single game for us in the outfield,” Affholter said. “She plays a big role in our outfield and she is definitely as leader. She talks a lot and keeps the team pumped up.”
The Golden Bears will not sport the best conference record when it heads to Little Creek Park for the RSC tournament, but Affholter believes her team will be a force to be reckoned with starting Thursday in South Charleston.
“I definitely believe our record is not reflective of how we play. We have lost eight one-run games this year. That is tough and those were all conference games that we lost by one run,” Affholter said. “I feel like we can beat every team next week. We have battled with every team and split with most of them. We are hoping to come out on top. We just have to stay within ourselves, motivate ourselves and don’t let anyone get in our head and I think that we can win.”