For more than a week, William Byrd’s softball team has talked about how badly they wanted a shot at defending 4A state champion Carroll County. On Wednesday, the Terriers got the opponent they wished for, but certainly not the result as Carroll silenced the visitors from Vinton in a 1-0 shutout for the Conference 24 Championship.
“They made the comment they were wishing to play us. There is an old saying about being careful what you wish for,” Carroll County head coach Rick Nester said after the game.
Little did anybody know Kyndall Hiatt’s run in the first inning would be the only score of the game as Carroll’s Sydney Nester and Byrd’s Mara Strum engaged in a pitchers’ duel that took all of 75 minutes to complete. Strum was masterful, allowing just five hits and one run while striking out five and walking none.
But fueled by comments William Byrd’s players and coach made Tuesday in The Roanoke Times, Nester came out with a little extra fire in her arm and that special gleam in her eyes reserved for the big games. Unfortunately for the 17-5 Terriers, nobody bothered to tell them Nester pitches better when she’s challenged and in the biggest games when the stakes are the highest. And boy did she ever, striking out nine and walking none in a three-hit shutout for unbeaten Carroll County (21-0).
After giving up a single each in the first and second innings, she retired 15 straight Byrd hitters until the Terriers were down to their last out. Amber Ewers added some drama, belting a double to left field to put the tying run on base. But then Ellasan Spangler, who told The Roanoke Times on Tuesday, “I’m excited to face Nester because I’ve heard a lot of stuff about her. I just want my shot at her,” hit a weak dribbler to second base to end the game.
Rick Nester said earlier comments made by Byrd about the Cavaliers on a television broadcast were no big deal. He took it as a compliment that the Terriers wanted the opportunity to play the defending state champs. A comment made by Byrd head coach Greg Barton didn’t sit as well with Nester.
Barton was quoted as telling The Roanoke Times he didn’t know what Nester has got, but she can’t throw any harder than Northside ace Morgan Bruce, who has committed to play at Ole Miss. If Wednesday’s game was a restaurant, Sydney Nester was the chef. On the menu was a heaping helping of Humble Pie.
“Some other comments come out here this week in The Roanoke Times directed towards Sydney that they have seen other pitchers this year that she is not as good as they are, that they have seen better pitching,” Rick Nester said. “They may have seen tonight that she is better than the other pitchers they have seen.”
While Nester’s strikeout total was down from her normal count, she still whiffed nine. However, she got plenty of help from her defense with the Terriers putting the ball in play. Alexis Meredith made a nice, over-the-shoulder catch on leadoff batter Megan Grant’s bloop to shortstop that looked like it would fall in for a hit. With two outs in the opening inning, Strum singled to center, but Nester got Ewers to ground out to Meredith to end the threat.
Sydney Burton reached on a bunt single with one out in the second inning, but was promptly gunned down trying to steal second by Hiatt, Carroll’s catcher. The next hitter, Cassie Powell, ripped a shot to left field that Caitlin Horton tracked down at the fence to end the inning, beginning a string of 15 consecutive retired Byrd batters by Nester.
“Our defense made the plays all game. We had Kyndall behind the plate for just her second full game this year and see threw that girl out at second,” Sydney Nester said, who chose to let her play in the field do her talking against the Terriers. “Caitlin in left field made an excellent play. And Jeannie Kay at second, Alexis Meredith at short and Gracie at third, they were all aggressive and played very well today.”
Meanwhile, Carroll’s only run came in the bottom of the first inning. After Hiatt ripped a leadoff double to center field on Strum’s first pitch, she took third when Davidson’s bunt blooped high past the hard-charging Byrd third baseman Madison Bailey. With nobody out, Sydney Nester hit a pop fly to shallow center field. Rick Nester made the decision to test the arm of Byrd center fielder Alexis West, and Hiatt beat the throw by the slimmest of margins.
“When Sydney hit the fly ball I was thinking this is too short, this is too shallow. But then I sent her because I am going to make them throw her out. I didn’t know how many other opportunities we were going to get,” he said. “We ended up never getting another girl to third.”
For Carroll County, Wednesday’s Conference 24 title game was as big as they come. By winning, the Cavaliers locked up the number one overall seed in the 4A West Region Tournament and a first-round bye. Carroll was scheduled to host the winner of a play-in game Friday between James Wood and Heritage-Leesburg on Monday, May 30. Had the Cavaliers lost, they would have had to play an extra play-in game at home May 27 and would have been on the road for the rest of the region tournament. Instead, they will now be at home until the state semifinals and finals.
“Today, Jeannie Kay (Utt) said this is what we live for, moments like this,” Sydney Nester said. “Coach (Cindy) Edwards told me today once a game is on the line it means something to us. All of us today were so competitive. And this game was like our state championship game.”
After the game, Rick Nester could barely come up with the words to describe the packed house that lined Cavalier Park to the gills. Parking was full in the softball lot, vehicles were lined up all along the road by the fieldhouse, and even the Senior Parking Lot was nearly full.
“If you look at the number of people that was here tonight, that’s pretty awesome,” the Cavalier coach said. “It was one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had here and they were able to witness a heck of a ballgame tonight on both sides.”
William B. 000 000 0 – 0 3 0
Carroll Co. 100 000 x – 1 5 0
Strum and Spangler (WB); Nester and Hiatt (CC). WP – Nester. LP – Strum. 2B – Ewers (WB); Hiatt (CC).
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN