Minus Kell, Oak Glen finds spark from injured pitcher’s presence to rally by Independence, 9-7

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Before Oak Glen faced Independence Wednesday in a Class AA elimination game, the Golden Bears had suffered a loss to Winfield earlier in the day.

During that contest, Oak Glen lost more than its state tournament opener when pitcher Lizzie Kell was hit by a line drive in the head, causing her to leave the contest. Kell, who was donning a protective mask, required stitches above her eye and was unable to play against the Patriots.

Her spirit, however, helped will the Golden Bears to a come-from-behind 9-7 victory that allows Oak Glen to play at least one more game Thursday against Herbert Hoover.

With Oak Glen (26-10) trailing 3-0 in the middle of the fourth inning, Kell returned from receiving treatment, entered the dugout area to an ovation and her presence alone provided a big lift. After the first two Golden Bears reached base to start the fourth, Liv Munoz blasted a three-run home run to left to tie the game at 3.

“After I saw them cheer Liz, I told them to start cheering regardless, because the energy is important,” Oak Glen head coach Sherrie Garner said. “Definitely added energy when they got to see her. They’ve been friends since a young age. It did lift their spirits and they’re connected deeply.”

Facing the Golden Bears’ No. 2 pitcher Maddie Murray, the Patriots (24-11) regained the lead in the fifth on a two-run double from Kendall Martin. Emma Lilly’s ground-rule double preceded the go-ahead extra-base hit.

Unfortunately for IHS, the advantage was short-lived.

Riley Bruce led off the home half of the fifth with a single, and two batters later, Sydney Brown tied the game with a two-run home run to right field that was nearly hauled in but crept over the fence.

“Everybody in the lineup can hit. It’s been proven, so they just have to have the confidence. It’s infectious and hitting is contagious,” Garner said.

Later in the fifth, Murray’s single, combined with a two-out Munoz double, enabled the Golden Bears to put a pair of runners in scoring position. Addie Smith followed with perhaps the game’s biggest hit — a two-run triple to right that gave OGHS its first lead and put the Golden Bears ahead to stay. Smith scored her team’s eighth run when Kayla Wright singled, allowing the Golden Bears to lead 8-5 through five.

“We had a great opportunity. With their No. 1 pitcher going out early, that’s a big day for their No. 2 pitcher and she did a great job,” Patriots’ head coach Ken Adkins said. “We gave ourselves some opportunities. It was a back-and-forth game. They took advantage of the opportunities a little better toward the end of the game than we did.”

Another leadoff single from Bruce in the sixth led to her scoring her team’s ninth run on a sacrifice fly, though the Patriots didn’t go away quietly in the seventh.

Buckland led off with a single and Lilly’s one-out double put the Patriots in position to score, which they did when Martin’s groundout allowed courtesy runner Kam Wooten to touch the plate. A run-scoring single from Kassidy Bradbury allowed Independence to send the tying run to the plate in the form of Alexis Meadows, but her ground ball back to Murray marked the game’s final out.

“With Lizzie’s influence, we haven’t had to work with Maddie a lot,” Garner said. “Lizzie’s endurance is up and she’s pitched a lot of back-to-back games. That was our intention was to continue with that, but Maddie was always ready and always says she’s ready when needed. She’s prepared to go in. She knew the situation. She’s a tough kid. She’s a sophomore, but she’s grown exponentially in all assets of the game. She’s a player and she knows she’s being led by some older kids.“

The Patriots gained the early lead with a first-inning run on a Bradbury two-out single, and Martin added a two-run single in the third that gave Buckland the benefit of pitching with a bigger advantage.

Despite suffering the defeat, Buckland struck out 12.

“She ends up with close to 930 career strikeouts, and really other than the home runs, she pretty much owned them,” Adkins said. “But when you’re the No. 1 pitcher and you have to throw 14 innings in a day, you’re not always going to make every pitch. Still, most of the pitches they hit were where we wanted them to be. Credit them for the adjustments to hit balls hard.”

Garner does not expect Kell to be available Thursday as she continues her recovery from a concussion.

“I haven’t really talked to her parents,” Garner said, “but that’s what I anticipate. Maybe we’ll get a twin.”

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