MAN — Man pitcher Morgan Cooper was dominant on Wednesday night against Tug Valley as she struck out 17 batters in a 4-0 win for the ‘Billies in the second round of the Class A Region IV Section I Softball Tournament.
Cooper fired the complete game shutout only allowing two hits and one walk as she sent top-seed Man into the sectional semifinals on Thursday where they will host No. 2 seed Buffalo at 6:30 p.m. with a berth in the championship on the line.
“She (Cooper) always keeps us in the game, if we come up with timely hits, we’ll usually be okay,” Man coach Randy Epperly said afeer the game. “That’s the way it’s been all year. We play for that early first run. We had a base running blunder in that first inning, but we overcome things like that. We got girls up and down the lineup who can come up with some hard hits...It was a good win for us. Tug Valley is a solid team, their pitcher (Kinna Justice) was pretty good too.”
The Lady ‘Billies scored all four of their runs in the home half of the third inning and that proved to be more than enough insurance for Cooper.
Zoey Jackson worked a leadoff walk for Man to start the inning and then with one out McKinlee Cline laid down a sacrifice bunt but was able to reach on a Tug Valley error to put runners on first and third.
Next up was Cooper and she dribbled a slow roller in the infield that scored Jackson and Cooper was also able to reach to put runners on first and second.
Cooper and Cline both advanced a base on a wild pitch and then freshman Mattie Carroll delivered a clutch two-run double to left center to make it a 3-0 game.
Next up was fellow freshman Peyton Lusk and she smacked a hard-hit ball to second but it took a tricky hop on Lady Panther two-bagger Tailyn Russell and the ball went all the way to the fence in right allowing Carroll to score and make it 4-0.
“That’s why we bunt, we make things happen with our bunts,” coach Epperly said. “And I’ve got two or three girls who are excellent bunters. And then our clean up hitter (Mattie Carroll), she’s came up with big hits for us all year, she knocked in two with that big double.”
Tug Valley pitcher Kinna Justice kept the Man bats quiet the rest of the way as she pitched well in the defeat going six innings allowing only five hits with five strikeouts and a walk.
“A little disappointing, we had one bad inning” coach Rocky Hall said. “We had some errors there. They had a couple hits in the game, we had a couple hits in the game. The errors got us...Theoretically we should still be playing ball right now.”
The Lady Panthers only two base hits were both by Justice as she had a bunt single in the fourth and then roped a single into center in the top of the seventh.
Tug put two runners on base in the seventh as Haleigh Muncy also worked a walk, but that was all they could muster as Cooper struck out the final batter to end the game.
“She (Cooper) has good stuff, she’s got a good rise ball and she’s got good velocity,” coach Hall said. “It’s just laying off the bad pitches and not getting tense in there.”
With the win Man improved to 14-3 on the year while Tug Valley fell to 15-12.
The Lady Panthers stays alive in the double elimination tournament as they return home to host Tolsia in an elimination game on Thursday. With a win over the Rebels, Tug will then play the winner of Van and Sherman in another elimination game on Friday.
TVHS: 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 2 2
MHS: 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 — 4 5 0
HD Media reporter Jarrid McCormick covers sports in Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.