West Stokes softball rallies past Starmount
KING — West Stokes erupted for eight runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and rallied for a 9-3 state playoff softball win over Starmount on Wednesday in a battle of top seeds from the area.
The Wildcats brought 12 batters to the plate in the decisive inning, getting a three-run homer from freshman Brea Lawson and a bases-clearing triple from senior Brianna Bratcher among other highlights.
The explosive frame helped erase a 3-1 deficit forged when Starmount’s Rachel Wagoner roped an RBI double in the third inning and Amber Smith followed with a towering two-run homer.
West Stokes (18-11) advances to play either Piedmont or Wheatmore in round three on Friday night. Starmount sees an overachieving season come to an end at 18-6.
“The kids have been working hard on their hitting. They have been in the cage all week, even with the rain and everything,” West Stokes coach Rick McHone said. “They are wanting this thing. We’ll just ride it as long as we can.”
Even though West Stokes and Starmount don’t typically play against each other, McHone said he is familiar with many of the Rams players through the travel softball circuit. He’s known Starmount starting pitcher Courtney Groce since she was in elementary school.
For much of the first four-and-a-half innings, Groce and the Rams had the upper hand. West Stokes scored in the bottom of the first but stranded runners in the second, went down quietly in the third and only brought three to the plate in the fourth.
“She had us off balance early on,” McHone said of Groce. “I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to hit it. But we made some adjustments at the plate, moving them up in the box and in toward the plate, taking a little bit of the plate away from her. That’s when things started rolling.”
Bratcher, a tall and speedy leadoff hitter, got the Wildcats’ fifth inning started with a slap double into left field. Emily Worley then followed with a single just past the glove of Starmount shortstop Mackenzie Hutchens.
Lawson stepped to the plate next. On the first pitch, Worley’s courtesy runner, Abigail Worley stole second. On the next, Lawson crushed a three-run homer into the pine trees in left field – her fifth home run of the season. Lawson is one of the Wildcats’ top hitters for the year with a .415 batting average and 20 RBIs.
“She has won a couple of games for us this year late in the game,” McHone said. “She hit a two-run bomb against Surry Central. She has really stepped up for a freshman … She plays older than what she is. I am liking that.”
When Lacey Grubbs walked, and Morgan Manley skipped a ball up the third-base line for a single, Starmount opted to change pitchers, bringing in Ashley Osborne. The senior got the next two batters out, but the Wildcats came to life again before the Rams could get out of the inning.
Anna Lankford drew a full-count walk to load the bases. Samantha Seaman then was hit with a pitch, bringing in a run for a 5-3 game.
That brought Bratcher back around again, and the Surry Community College signee ripped a ball into left field, that slipped underneath the Starmount fielder’s glove and escaped deeper into the outfield. All three base-runners scored, and Bratcher ended up on third base.
That hit was the back-breaker for the Rams, who fell behind 8-3 with that play. West Stokes tacked on another run when Bratcher came home following a throwing error.
“They are a good ball team. They are going to put the bat on it,” Starmount coach Heather Courts said. “It’s a tough loss, especially when you make some huge mistakes and leave that many people on base (nine total). You know deep down that should have been a much closer ball game.
Starmount had the makings of a rally in its final at-bats. Hutchens singled to lead off, then Smith sent a rocket into centerfield for a single with one out. Osborne followed with a single to load the bases.
That brought another Surry Community College signee to the plate, Courtney Barnes, who has stroked some monster homers this season. Barnes did make solid contact but her liner went right to shortstop Samantha Seaman, who made the catch and then threw to second base for a game-ending double play.
Emily Worley, who came on in relief with the Wildcats down 3-1 in the third inning, earned the pitching win.
Despite the loss and the end of the stellar high school careers of players like Groce, Starmount’s Courts considers this season a resounding success. Few likely believed the Rams could win 18 games and earn the top 2A seed from the Mountain Valley 1A/2A Conference.
“That is well beyond what I expected of us this year,” Courts said. “After losing seven starters and the talent we lost, I had no idea what to expect this year. They have done well, especially my seniors leading the way and stepping in and playing positions they haven’t played much. You can’t ask for a better season. I just hate that it ended.”
West Stokes 9, Starmount 3
2A Softball Playoffs * Round 2 * Wednesday * at King
Starmount 003 000 0 — 3 9
West Stokes 100 080 x — 9 11
WP: Emily Worley; LP: Courtney Groce
HR: Amber Smith (ST); Brea Lawson (WS)
3B: Brianna Bratcher (WS)
2B: Rachel Wagoner (ST), Alli Jones (ST), Brea Lawson (WS), Morgan Manley (WS), Lacey Grubbs (WS).
Leading Hitters: Starmount – Amber Smith 2-for-3, HR, 2 RBIs; Rachel Wagoner 2-for-3, 2B, RBI; Courtney Groce 2-for-4. West Stokes – Brianna Bratcher 3-for-3, 3B, 3 RBIs. Brea Lawson 2-for-4, HR, 3 RBIs; Lacey Grubbs 1-for-3, RBI; Anna Lankford 2-for-2; Morgan Manley 2-for-4.