NEW MARTINSVILLE - It was a heartbreaking finish to a marvelous career for Magnolia High School pitcher Tori Tharp and nine of her senior teammates Thursday.
Locked in a give-no-quarter pitching battle with Kelsey Waggoner of defending West Virginia Class AA state champion Ritchie County, Tharp was charged with an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth inning that turned out to be the only score of the game as the Rebels prevailed 1-0 to capture their third straight Class AA Region One softball crown.
Unfortunately, the victim in all three of those games were the Blue Eagles, providing a bitter taste of deja vu for Coach Mark Batton. Magnolia actually has come up one game short of earning a state tournament berth six years in a row, beginning with a 14-inning loss to Ritchie County in 2007 followed by back-to-back losses at the hands of Point Pleasant.
''I'm thrilled that our girls won but I feel sorry for that guy," said Rebels veteran coach Dave Mosser, pointing in the direction of Batton, who was still in the outfield consoling his disappointed team.
''When two pitchers are throwing that well, it is usually a mistake that decides the game. Tori Tharp was magnificent. I have one of the best hitting teams you'll find anywhere but we didn't do much with her. Both pitchers were outstanding."
The two teams combined for a total of seven hits - four by Magnolia. Waggoner, Ritchie's hard-throwing right-hander, struck out eight and walked two.
Waggoner was behind in the count to a lot of hitters early in the game, throwing 52 pitches the first three innings before getting the side out with 10 pitches or less during three of the last four frames.
Tharp's pitch count was even better. The four-year Blue Eagles ace needed 71 pitches during her six innings of work, including a six-pitch third inning and two other frames that saw her serve up 10 pitches or less. Overall, Tharp did not issue a walk and she struck out three.
''It's really tough letting these girls go," said Batton, who had tears in his eyes after the extremely tough loss.
The Blue Eagles finished the season with a still-sparkling 28-4 record, highlighted by a victory against Fort Frye in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 3A championship game.
''This just isn't a good time right now. We've had a great ride with these seniors. It's a shame they never were able to get to the state tournament but life isn't always fair," Batton said.
Michaela Smith, batting eighth in the Ritchie County lineup, opened the decisive bottom of the sixth with a long fly ball that bounced off the bottom of the left-field fence for a double, just the Rebels' second extra-base hit of the game.
Becca Sullivan then bounced one back to the mound that was gloved nicely by Tharp, who checked the runner back to second before getting the out at first. Vanessa Tallman stepped to the plate and dropped a bunt down the third-base line that was fielded by a charging Jordan Babe. Unfortunately, her hurried throw took a bad bounce past first baseman Mallory Chapman and rolled down the right-field line as Smith raced home with the eventual winning run. With Tallman now at second base, Tharp retired the side without further damage on a strikeout of Cassidy Ray and Allison Delancey's bounce out to shortstop Dallas Mullett.
Ritchie County (26-5) had one other runner reach second. That was in the first inning when Cassidy Ray also doubled over the head ofBlue Eagles left fielder Cassidi Wells. Delancey, the leading hitter in the Lady Rebels' lineup, started an 0-for-3 day for herself by flying out to center fielder Emily Blake and the threat ended when Micah Ray bounced out to second baseman Abby Durig.
After Ritchie's Abby Burgess singled to open the third inning, Waggoner rapped into a 4-6-3 double play that was neatly started by Durig at second and finished off on Mullett's strong throw to first.
Tharp also got some solid support from her defense when right fielder MaKenzie Dawson turned in a nice running catch to deny Burgess a possible extra-base knock leading off the fifth inning.
The Blue Eagles had several opportunities to put runners on base denied by sparkling plays in the field from Ritchie third baseman Mica Ray, Delancey at shortstop and a game ender when right fielder Tallman fielded Dawson's one-hopper and threw her out by an eyelash at first base.
Waggoner had gotten the first two Magnolia hitter in the seventh before Babe kept things alive with a single, her second hit of the game. She was on the move toward third base when Dawson had her possible hit taken away by Tallman's strong throw.
''We knew it was going to be a dogfight and I honestly expected it to be a 1-0 game," Batton said. ''Kelsey pitched well for them and I thought we hit the ball hard but they made the plays."