Thanks to a complete game in the circle from senior Lilly Ensley and three hits apiece from juniors Hudson Carver and Colby Warren, Pisgah softball picked up a 4-2 win over rival Smoky Mountain in its home opener Tuesday.
Carver finished 3 for 3 with three runs scored, all driven in by Warren, who went 3 for 3 with three RBIs. The Bears trailed 2-1 through 2.5 innings, but scored three unanswered, including two in the bottom of the sixth, to pick up the win.
“Anytime you can start the year out 1-0, against Smoky Mountain, which they’re a well-coached team, is a good start to the season,” said head coach Heidi Morgan.
Two-year-old Major Hooper, who has battled Wilms tumors most of his life and will ring the bell to mark the end of his treatments this week, threw the first pitch in a heartwarming pregame moment (full story on Major to come in the weekend Mountaineer).
Ensley, across seven full innings, allowed just two runs on six hits while striking out three and walking two, picking up the win.
“I have not pitched since my freshman year,” Ensley said. “I was a little nervous going into this conference game, because I know how good they are.”
A single and error allowed the Mustangs to put runners on the corners with one out in the top of the first, but Ensley and senior catcher Maggie McCracken executed a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play, as McCracken gunned down a runner trying to swipe second.
After Smoky led off the second with a single to right, McCracken turned another double play, corralling a bunt out of the air and picking the runner off first, and Ensley picked up a swinging strikeout.
“If I didn’t have my defense, I don’t know where we would be,” Ensley said. “Sometimes our pitchers don’t hit our spots. We rely on our defense when that happens.”
Carver led off the bottom of the second with a standup double to right, and the Bears took the lead with two outs as junior center fielder Colby Warren drove a double to the left-field wall to make it 1-0.
The Mustangs answered back to take the lead in the top of the third; following a walk, a two-run shot over the right-field fence to make it 2-1.
Carver led off the bottom of the fourth with her second double of the game, and Pisgah tied the game with the same formula as its first run, as Warren roped a double to center to make it a 2-2 game.
“Hudson is a very aggressive hitter for us,” Morgan said. “She’s been on varsity for two years. Colby is a junior that just joined the varsity squad. It’s nice to be able to see her relax and be aggressive at the plate.”
Carver again set the table in the bottom of the sixth, this time with a single to center. Senior Paige Griffith laid down a perfect sac bunt to put Carver on second, and junior McKenna Browning also bunted, but beat out the throw to first to put runners on the corners with one down.
Warren stepped up to the plate and again came up big, lining a single to right field for her third hit of the day to again score Carver and give Pisgah a 3-2 lead. The Bears added an insurance run as Browning came home on an errant throw to first to make it 4-2.
“We were able to consistently get someone on and manufacture some runs,” Morgan said. “We played some small ball to do that. Sometimes that’s what it takes.”
Following a leadoff single by the Mustangs in the top of the seventh, the Bears came up with another double play, as Browning slid down to glove a bunt, and fired a bullet to first from her knees to pick off the runner, and a fly out ended the game as Ensley finished the complete start.
“Lilly works very hard,” Morgan said. “She has a strong work ethic. She goes out and trusts her defense to make big plays. Today, they stepped up for her and did just that.”
The Bears will hit the road Thursday to take on Polk County.
“We just need to maintain confidence in each other and ourselves and keep working hard,” Morgan said.