BUFFALO — The coronavirus robbed Brianna McCown of arguably her best chance in four years to finally break through and win a state championship.
But when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, and McCown served up a big hefty glass to the competition on the hottest of summer days.
McCown made her first and last appearance in a St. Albans uniform and struck out 26 in a pair of five-inning shutouts to lead Region 3 to a championship in the North-South Softball Classic Thursday at Buffalo City Field.
Instead of teams being divided into North and South, each of the state’s four regions brought a team to Buffalo and played two semifinals, a consolation game and a title game. Region 3 bested Region 4 1-0 in the day’s first game and then took care of Region 1 3-0 in the title game to seal the deal.
McCown, who will continue her career at Marshall next year, struck out 13 hitters in each contest, needing only four putouts from her defense in pushing Region 3 to the end.
“It feels pretty good,” McCown said. “I took some time off before travel started and I didn’t know what to expect coming in, but I knew I had to bring my best stuff.”
It certainly appeared to be just that as McCown yielded just four hits over the two games, leaving hitters stymied as temperatures soared into the neighborhood of triple digits.
McCown, who had helped guide George Washington to three state-tournament appearances over her first three prep seasons, transferred to St. Albans in the offseason, joining a Red Dragons roster full of experience, talent and promise. And though it was a consolation prize at best, McCown made the most of her one prep appearance in 2020.
“It’s not a state championship, but to go out on a win feels pretty great,” McCown said.
St. Albans coach Christian Watts guided the Region 3 squad and knew his Red Dragons had a chance to make a run at winning a Class AAA crown this season. Another of those players, shortstop Julia VanCamp, was also on the Region 3 roster and came up with a bunt single and the first run of the championship game.
“When you have two of your own girls and they worked so hard and to have it taken from them,” Watts said, fighting emotion. “I hate it for the kids, but I was glad we got to do this.”
McCown was named the MVP of the team’s semifinal win with Independence’s Makenzie Holley taking home the honors in the title game after registering a hit and a sacrifice bunt in three trips to the plate.
After McCown outdueled Hurricane’s Harlie Vannatter in the first semifinal, Brooke’s Rachel Kazmirski tossed a shutout to thwart Region 2, led by Herbert Hoover coach Missy Smith and four Huskies seniors. Presley McGee threw four innings in the first game before Delani Buckner took the circle in the consolation game. Buckner, who will play at Appalachian State next year, struck out nine and danced in and out of some trouble to propel Region 2 to the 2-1 win over Region 4.
While the event was special for all of the participants, for Buckner and McGee as well as second baseman Rylee Nottingham and catcher Jess Canterbury and coaches Smith and Jamanda Rollyson, Thursday felt nearly like a pair of home games with a lot of familiar faces both in the dugout and outside of it.
“I’ve played with them since we were 6 or 7 years old, so it was good to all play together one more time,” said McGee, who will play at Alderson Broaddus next season. “I felt like I was literally playing in Falling Rock. I loved having them coach me one more time.”
Nottingham had a pair of hits with McGee driving in a run in the consolation game. Peyton Jordan from Point Pleasant led Region 4 with two hits and three outstanding defensive plays to help keep her team in it behind Sherman pitcher Autumn Thompson, who went the distance in the consolation game.
Petersburg’s Carly Cooper struck out 13, and all three Region 3 runs were unearned in the title tilt.