CHRISTIANSBURG — Cave Spring advanced to the River Ridge District softball final on Thursday night with a 6-0 win over Christiansburg, but the Knights will have an unexpected foe battling for the tournament title — Salem.
The Spartans advanced to the final with a 4-3 upset win over Blacksburg.
It was a reversal of fortune for a Spartans team that lost a pair of regular season games to Blacksburg (17-4) by a combined score of 21-3. They matched that run total in the first inning thanks to a three-run homer from Kendra Bolen, who crushed the ball over the centerfield fence with two outs.
While Salem (8-14) never trailed, there were some tense moments down the stretch with pitcher Reagan Owens stranding the winning run at first base to close out the game.
“I still really can’t breathe,” said a smiling Owens after the game. “This was huge. Every other time we’ve played them they have demolished us.”
Owens saved her best for last with Blacksburg leadoff hitter Katie Currin coming up to bat in the final frame. Currin, whom Salem coach John Counts described as his team’s “nemesis” at the plate, had two runners on with only one out.
The centerfielder got the Bruins on the board earlier in the game with an RBI double, but she grounded into a fielder’s choice to Owens with the game on the line.
Owens finished off the complete game by getting Blacksburg second baseman Brie Kuhar to pop out. Owens allowed six hits and two walks while striking out seven batters in the win. She was 2 of 3 at the plate with a run.
“She is pitching the best of her career the last five games, there’s nobody better,” Counts said. “She battled it out. They are a great team, a great hitting team and Katie [Currin] always seems to come through in that situation.”
Blacksburg fought its way back starting with Currin’s RBI-double that bounced off the centerfield fence in the top of the third inning. Bruins third baseman Skyler Mawby made it a one-run game an inning later laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt in front of home plate.
“It was good to be in a tight game, we haven’t had a lot of close games this year, not enough,” Blacksburg coach Marty McMahon said. “They [Salem] played really good, but I liked some off the plays we made — the suicide bunt. We executed that well and hopefully those things will play off for us here down the line.”
Salem added an insurance run in the sixth inning despite a costly base-running error. Owens made it to third base to start the inning with no outs, doubling down the third-base line and advancing to third on a past ball.
Lily Lawson walked to put runners at the corners, but Owens was thrown out at home when Lawson tried to steal second. After Kendra Bolen grounded out to the pitcher, Taylor Bolen knocked Lawson in with a single just past the reach of a diving Mawby at third base.
Owens’ double at the start of the inning was the first hit Blacksburg pitcher Makayla Dowdy allowed after Bolen’s home run in the first. Dowdy allowed three walks and five hits while striking out seven in the complete game loss.
The loss won’t impact a Blacksburg team that already locked up the No. 1 seed in next week’s Class 4D region tournament.
“We still have a really young team,” McMahon said. “We only have two seniors and we have two freshmen that start. I think we know we need to be a little more aggressive now [at the plate]. We took too many strikes, but I like how we battled today.”
In Game 2, the Knights, who will play Salem at 6 p.m. Friday at Christiansburg High School, got another dominant pitching performance from Abby Weaver, who struck out 14 batters while allowing only three baserunners (one was on an error). She struck out eight of the last 10 batters she faced.
“That’s who she is,” Cave Spring coach Nick Sharp said. “She’s gotten better as the year goes on. She kinds of gets in her groove when the weather warms up a little bit. That’s just how she is every year. It’s been that way since she was in the ninth grade.”
After getting Christiansburg third baseman Casey Kietrys to ground into a fielder’s choice in the top of the fourth, Weaver struck out six straight. Christiansburg left fielder Madelynn Evans was the only batter to even make contact during the stretch, fouling off two would-be strikes.
“She was locating it pretty good and getting us behind right out of the gate with first pitch strikes,” Christiansburg coach Nate O’Dell said. “She was on her game tonight that’s for sure. We just got to get the ball in play. We have to make them field and catch it.”
Weaver, who recorded her 500th strikeout earlier this season, also lent on a hand at the plate, knocking in a pair of runs in the second inning.
Cave Spring (17-5) scattered 11 hits over six innings off of Madi Thompson with only one extra-base hit, a double from Emma Fields in the third. Fields was 3 of 3 with four RBIs. Taylor Smithson was 2 of 3 with two runs.
“We just talked about that, we didn’t hit like we are capable of hitting, some night that’s going to happen,” Sharp said. “You aren’t going to perfect every night, but we have to keep working on what we do.”
Christiansburg leadoff hitter Kyndall Stanley had both her team’s hits before leaving the game in the third inning with a possible concussion. She was tagged out right in the face sliding into home base.
“They are taking her to be evaluated,” O’Dell said. “She’s our offense. She’s got good speed and a good slapper for our leadoff, but the kids rallied around. The defense locked it down and were where they needed to be.”
Cave Spring advances to the district final on Friday night against Salem. The Knights will play Christiansburg (11-10) for the fourth time this season in next week’s regionals.