VIENNA - It wasn't like quite crossing Niagara Falls on a wire, but the Buffalo softball team walked a tightrope and managed to win its third consecutive Class A state title by the slimmest of all margins.
Thursday in the championship game at Jackson Park, Ali Burdette's home run in the first inning stood up as Buffalo defeated Moorefield 1-0. The Bison played three games the past two days at the state tournament and each time they won 1-0.
"I thought we were going to score runs in this tournament, and it just so happened we hit the ball right to them in all three ballgames," Buffalo coach Darrell Moore said. "The other teams just made plays.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Buffalo's Whitney Dingess takes a throw to force out Moorefield's Ashley Rexrode during their Class A state championship game.
"We're going to take any championship we can get, no matter what the score is - whether it was 10-0 or 1-0, I love it. Three runs to win a state championship: Has it ever happened before? I don't think so."
Buffalo ended the season at 34-4 and extended its winning streak to 22 straight games. Every starting player in the Bison lineup returns next season, including Burdette who struck out eight but had to work out of numerous jams.
"We will play exactly the way we played this year - play hard and play competitive," Moore added.
Moorefield finished with nine hits, including two doubles. On the downside, the Yellow Jackets (28-5) stranded 10 runners on base - including the tying and go-ahead run as Burdette secured the victory by striking out the final two batters in the top of the seventh inning.
The last pitch of the game was a change-up on a 1-2 count which Moorefield clean-up hitter Brooke Riggleman swung and missed.
"I was trying to keep the pitch down and away to keep her off-balanced," Burdette said. "As soon as I threw it, I knew it was a good pitch."
Moorefield had at least one baserunner in each inning. Beth Cook doubled with one out in the first inning before Burdette retired the next two hitters.
In the home half of the first inning, Burdette stepped to the plate with one out. On the first offering from Moorefield starting pitcher Taylor Zuber, Burdette ripped a shot which sailed over the fence in right-center field for a solo homer - the first and only homer hit during six games in the Class A state tournament.
"The pitch was down the middle - I've been trying to pull the ball lately, but this one went to the opposite field," Burdette said.
From that point on, it was a white-knuckle affair for the Bison while trying to protect the one-run lead. Moorefield's Katelyn Wills led off the second inning with a double, and after she was bunted to third base Burdette retired the next two hitters on strikeouts.
In the third inning, Moorefield had three hits and still failed to score a run. The threat ended when Buffalo left fielder Katie Higginbotham threw out a baserunner trying to score from second base on a single by Riggleman.
Buffalo ran into more trouble in the fourth inning as Wills and and Jayme Fraley opened the frame with back-to-back singles. The baserunners advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt, but Wills was caught straying too far from third base on the very next at bat as Burdette fielded a grounder and threw to third base.
"It's the like the whole week the defense made plays," said Moore, who was joined in the awards ceremony by his two grandchildren Owen (age 4) and Ava Cobb (2).
No other Moorefield baserunner reached scoring position until Cook's one-out single in the seventh inning put runners at first and second base. That's when Burdette took matters into her own hands and recorded consecutive strikeouts to secure the win.
Buffalo, Moorefield and Wheeling Central each occupied three spots on the all-tournament team. Representing Buffalo were Burdette, Chase Christy and Chelsey Parkins, while earning the award from Moorefield were Danica Rigers, Brooke Riggleman and Beth Cook. Joining Wheeling Central's Allie Cook, Sarah Henry and Joni Zavolta on the all-tourney squad was Man's Kelly Grimmett.
The team sportsmanship award went to Man High School.
Moorefield 7, Wheeling Central 6
Moorefield emerged out of the loser's bracket earlier in the day by scoring the game-winner in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 7-6 victory against Wheeling Central.
Wheeling Central tied the game with a pair of runs in the top of the seventh inning on a Sydney Bennington's RBI single and a Sarah Henry sacrifice fly.
With the score even at 6 in the bottom of the seventh, Cook opened the frame by reaching on an error. One out and one wild pitch later, Riggleman doubled home Cook for the Yellow Jackets' seventh run.