NEW MARTINSVILLE - When you are battling one of the top teams in the valley with one of the premier pitchers, you had better take advantage of any, and every, opportunity given to you.
Magnolia coach Mark Batton watched his Blue Eagles' softball team put a pair of runners on in the first inning Wednesday afternoon, only to strand both in what turned out to be a pivotal moment in a loss to Bellaire St. John.
Hannah Absalom fanned 16 batters, allowing just one hit, and chased home the game's only run with a third-inning single as the Fighting Irish overcame a rare off day at the plate to post a 1-0 victory against Magnolia at Hydro Field.
The victory moves Coach Jerry Magistro's team to a perfect 10-0 on the season while Big Blue falls to 4-9 and will look to make some noise in their own tournament this weekend.
"Any time you go on the road and face someone, especially a good team like Magnolia, you have to be happy when you come away with a win," Magistro said. "It's a little bit of a long drive and I think the kids were a little tired and that is going to happen, but we got the win.
"Magnolia is always a gutsy team and they will play anyone and play them hard."
St. John had the first opportunity of the game, getting a two-out Morgan DeLuca single in the top of the first before Caitlin Sliva reached on an error to put runners at first and second. However, starting, and losing pitcher, Mallory Chapman induced a force out to end the threat. Chapman also pitched a fine game, striking out six and not issuing a walk while allowing five singles.
Magnolia's best chance came in the bottom of the same frame when Chapman reached on a one-out bloop single over third, the Eagles' only hit of the game, and Audrey Gibb worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch to put a pair on. Ashley Moore's sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third before Absalom recorded her second strikeout of the inning to keep the game scoreless.
The Irish then went to work on manufacturing the games only run in the top of the third. No. 9 hitter Kyleigh Falcone reached on an infield single, went to second on a Katie Coppa fielder's choice and third on a wild pitch. Absalom then aided her own cause with a one-out blooper to right that sent Falcone home with the eventual game-winner.
St. John did put a runner at second in the fifth and had girls at second and third and no one out in the seventh, but did not score again. Magnolia had just two base runners after the first inning, both reaching on free passes.
"Absalom does an outstanding job of limiting base runners," Batton said. "So when we didn't score in the first inning that really hurt us. We advanced the runners to second and third, but you have to take advantage of opportunities and we didn't, but they did.
"But I think you got to see two very good pitchers here (Wednesday). Pitching and defense have kept us in games, but we are young and have to learn how to make contact. We did a good job last Saturday, but it has been off and on and we have to get more consistent.
"Right now there are just a lot of practice games getting ready for the tournament. We have faced some of the best pitchers and best teams in the valley and I believe we will be all right later in the season."
Magistro was proud of how his team battled through while not hitting the ball.
"We did this with pitching and defense," the veteran coach said. "In the third inning we did the things we needed to do to get a run in and we made it stand. Not hitting is a little out of character for us, but you can't get hits all the time."