BRISTOL, Va. – What John Battle High School’s softball players feasted on for a pregame meal was not as important as what the Trojans had to chew on over the weekend.
“ I called it our piece of humble pie,” said Battle coach Hannah Light Cress. “A loss before regions was not a bad thing for us.”
John Battle didn’t just bounce back from its first loss of the season, the Trojans blasted back from that initial defeat, connecting for three home runs in an 8-5 victory over the Virginia High Bearcats on Monday in the first round of the VHSL Region 2D tournament.
Battle (14-1) hosts Mountain 7 District rival Wise County Central (12-4) in Wednesday’s regional semifinals.
After suffering a 4-2 setback to Ridgeview on Friday in the title game of the Mountain 7 District tourney, Cress was anxious to see how her team would respond.
“ They came in at 10 o’clock this morning to hit and I could tell it was a different attitude and a different mentality,” Cress said. “They were ready.”
Hanna Jo McReynolds, Jordan Roulett-Wheeler and Charleigh Gobble homered for Battle, bringing the team’s longball total to 34 this season. Meanwhile, Alyssa Kate Wallace provided a spark with two hits and two RBIs in her first game hitting in the clean-up spot.
Wallace slid three sports down the order from her regular leadoff position.
“ We wanted to mix some things up,” Cress said. “She has a really strong stick and we wanted to see what she could do with runners on.”
How did Wallace respond when seeing her name written in the No. 4 hole on the lineup card?
“ We have a lot of power hitters on this team, so I felt a little nervous being in that spot,” Wallace said. “That encouraged me to hit better though to fill that role and that [Cress] trusts me enough to do it.”
After grounding out in her fast at-bat, Wallace ripped a two-run double in the third inning that gave Battle a 4-1 lead.
“ I usually don’t hit the first pitch,” Wallace said. “I like to get deep in the count and work the pitcher. Coach has been preaching a first-pitch mentality and that’s what I did when I got an early pitch to hit. It worked out pretty well for me.”
Wallace added a fourth-inning single. She, McReynolds, Roulett-Wheeler, Logan Leonard and Ellie Keene each had two hits for Battle with McReynolds’ homer in the first inning being her ninth of the season.
However, VHS (7-7) never let the Trojans get completely comfortable and trailed just 6-5 after batting around and scoring four times in the top of the fourth inning.
“ I challenged them this morning to come out and compete every single pitch and I feel like we did that,” said Virginia High coach Andrew Belcher. “I don’t think many people gave us a chance of even being in the game, let alone having a chance to win. I’m extremely proud of my bunch. They gave me everything they had today.”
Senior Harley Holmes went 3-for-4 to lead the way in her final game for the Bearcats, while Aidan James had two hits and Jayden Kilinski hit a two-run single. VHS made some progress this season under Belcher, who took over at the helm following the 2019 season.
“ I’ve got six sophomores in the lineup and two freshmen,” Belcher said. “I’m gonna miss the seniors for sure, but I think we laid a foundation for our program to continue getting better in the years to come.”
As for Battle, the refocused Trojans will face a quality Central team that they edged 9-8 and 3-2 in the regular season.
“ Central’s a good ball team,” Cress said. “They can hit, they’re well-coached and have been playing together for a long time. My kids know they’ll have to bring it.”