A young Lady Warriors softball team grew by leaps and bounds this season, but was unable to get past a formidable foe in the sectional playoffs. The reigning sectional champions, the Pendleton County Ladycats, successfully defended their title against Pocahontas County last Thursday in Franklin. The Ladycats defeated the Lady Warriors in both games of a double-elimination doubleheader.
The Ladycats play their home games at a beautiful downtown field near the town’s community center. The home team had a definite advantage in fan support. A bleacher-full of Pendleton fans cheered their team while just a handful of Pocahontas fans made the trip to root for the Lady Warriors.
Ladycat ace pitcher Brittany Huffman totally dominated the Lady Warriors. The senior, four-year starter has been Pendleton’s starter for the past two seasons. Huffman hit a school record six home runs this year and was batting .400 coming into the sectional playoffs. Huffman blanked the Lady Warriors in both games, 14-0 and 16-0.
The Lady Warriors’ best chance to score came in the fourth inning of game one. Junior Natalie Hartzell hit a lead-off single and advanced to third on a one-out single by junior Bobbie McNabb. On a sharply hit, two-out ground ball by Lindsey Hartzell, big sister Natalie was thrown out in a close play at home.
The Ladycats executed a nice double play in the third inning of game two to help stifle a second Pocahontas rally. Sophomore Makayla Marks led off with a single for PCHS and freshman Bryce Kranc drew a walk. Freshman Harley Francisco hit a fly ball that looked like it was going to drop in for a bloop base hit. But the Ladycat center fielder made the catch and threw out Marks, who was hustling to get back to second base.
With three seniors batting around the .400 mark, Pendleton scored in almost every inning. McNabb pitched well but PCHS defensive miscues made it difficult to retire the Ladycats. McNabb pitched six and a third innings. Natalie Hartzell pitched three-and-a-half innings of relief in game two.
Across both games, Marks hit two singles; McNabb singled and walked; Natalie Hartzell singled and was hit by a pitch and Kranc walked twice. Junior catcher Sarah Lambert made her usual outstanding effort behind the plate.
After the game, Head Coach Rick Hartzell was upbeat.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “We won a lot more games this year. A lot better ball playing, at times. Yeah, we had our downs, just like tonight, but it was a good season. The girls played hard. It’s something we can look at to better next year.”
PCHS finished their regular season with a 7-6 winning record, a first for the program that Hillsboro resident and former Potomac State College baseball player Eugene Simmons started five years ago.
Hartzell thinks the Lady Warriors upward trend should continue next season.
“We should do better because we’re getting everybody back,” he said. “We’re only losing one player, so we should do a lot better. We’ll have more experience. The freshmen will have a year of game experience. The older players will hopefully step up. We should be better next year.”
The coach will remember one game, in particular, from this season.
“They made me proud with all the wins this season,” he said. “I guess the high point is the game they won on my birthday. They said ‘happy birthday.’”
Lady Warriors agreed that winning games makes softball season more fun.
Senior second baseman Bethany Arbogast played the final game of her three-year softball career at PCHS.
“Winning games this year was a big thing,” she said. “I think they’ll be better next year. We all worked hard together this year. I’m going to miss it.”
Natalie Hartzell prefers roaming the outfield more than her current assignment at first base.
“I’ve played softball ever since I was a little kid, so I like it,” she said. “I definitely like playing infield better than pitching, but I’d rather be out in the outfield.”
The junior standout also expects the team to improve.
“The team got a whole lot better this year,” she said. “I know there’s more girls coming up. We got a lot of experience this year and I think it will carry through into next year.”
Sophomore third baseman Emily Boothe enjoyed the pressure of playing the hot corner.
“It’s fun because we won,” she said. “Winning’s fun and I like the girls on the team. They’re my friends.”
Boothe said some good prospects will join the team next season.
“There’s a lot of girls coming up from middle school, a couple pitchers,” she said. “I think the team will get better. I’ll get better too because I’m working out this summer.”
This past season, freshman outfielder Tiffany Hoover showed the hustle and attitude of a future star.
“I liked having fun and just being able to learn how to play,” she said. “I think we’ll do better next year. I think we’ll be more focused. We’ve got new players coming up that are pretty good, so I think we’ll be good.”