LAGRANGE — It looked pretty grim when Keystone fell behind Westlake 3-1 after two innings in the bitter cold of Tuesday afternoon.
In fact, it began to look as though the Wildcats would lose their first softball game since June 4, 2011. That was the day they dropped a frustrating one-hitter to Poland Seminary 4-0 in the Division II state championship at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
But Tuesday’s non-conference season opener was different. It became the Carleigh Herrington Show.
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It was Herrington’s solo home run in the first inning that treated the Wildcats to a 1-1 tie. More dramatically, it was her walk-off, two-run homer in the eighth that carried them to a 5-3 extra-inning victory. It was their 33rd in a row — including their third state championship last spring — since that dark day 22 months ago.
Sarah Loman hurled three hitless innings in relief of Emily Cornish to earn the victory.
The junior Herrington, whose homers easily cleared the left-center-field fence, said she had never before hit two in a game.
“Actually, I only had two home runs last season,” she said.
Of Tuesday’s shots, she said: “They were both outside pitches. I just swung hard, took it to left field and they went over. It’s so exciting. It’s a great start to our season. We’ve put in so much hard work and so much time hitting and it’s nice to see it pay off.”
Wildcats coach Jim Piazza said he predicted Herrington would score the winning run when he huddled with the team before the Keystone eighth.
“I told them Morgan McNulty’s going to get on and Carleigh’s going to get the game-winning hit,” he said. “Then they go, ‘How do you do that?’ I said it’s called visualization. I said, ‘When you visualize things happening and you believe it, it’s going to happen.’
“This group of kids is coming around. They’re focusing in and they’re sticking together.”
Westlake’s Erin Brown, who doubled, scored an unearned run in the first inning when the Keystone infield blew a throw to the plate trying to get her.
After Herrington’s initial shot tied it at 1, the Demons (0-1) came back with two runs in the second. Rachel May walked, then scored on Katie Lew’s sacrifice fly, and Gina Campo, who doubled, scored on Danielle Dill’s single.
The Wildcats managed just one more hit — Brittany Bowers’ one-out single in the fourth – then tied the score at 3 on three hits in the fifth.
Nicole Neri led off the inning with a single, stole second, then scored on Loman’s single to right. Loman, who took second on the play, moved to third on Sarah Fortune’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Destiny Weber’s single to left.
Both teams were retired in order in the seventh, which set the stage for Herrington’s heroics in the eighth.
Westlake coach Tom Shiban said he was pleased with the work of Lew, his freshman pitcher who retired 10 of the first 11 batters.
“She pitched a great game,” he said. “Unfortunately, that girl (Herrington) is one heckuva hitter. She blasted two home runs against us and obviously that last one really hurt.
“But I was proud of our girls. They hit the ball well pretty much the whole day. We scored three runs fairly early, then we just didn’t get any more after that. We had some chances, but we couldn’t get any hits with runners in scoring position.”
The Wildcats, who left for a tournament in Kentucky, return to LaGrange for a Patriot Athletic Conference battle with Black River and pitcher Dagmar Smith at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or email@example.com.