Wampler’s HR leads Holston past Patrick Henry | Sports

EMORY, Va. – Kendra Wampler isn’t sure on the exact number of at-bats or the total number of hits she’s had against Patrick Henry High School pitcher Madison Booth over the past four years.

You can rest assured though a plate appearance she experienced on Thursday against the ace will be branded in her memory forever.

Wampler walloped a three-run homer in the third inning that proved to be the decisive blow as Holston earned a 3-2 victory over Patrick Henry in the finals of the VHSL Region 1A West softball tournament at Emory & Henry College.

Holston (22-6) won its first regional championship since 2013 and evened the season series against PH (21-5) at three games apiece.

Could the teams play a seventh time in 2017 in the state finals?

If they can get by their semifinal opponents – Mathews and Luray – it could happen.

Expect a thriller like Thursday’s if that were to occur.

“It couldn’t be anything else but a one-run game,” said Holston coach Lisa Blackburn. “It’s always a good game between us. We’ve battled all year. … We know each other pretty well.”

Wampler knows plenty about Booth and she relied on that scouting report – and some old advice – when she stepped in to face the right-hander with two runners on and no outs in the top of the third inning.

“I was kind of nervous,” Wampler said. “But they always tell me to have fun, so I just got in the box and I just smiled.”

After working the count full and fouling off some pitches, Wampler squared one up and the ball sailed over the left-field fence to give Holston a 3-0 lead.

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The grin grew bigger as she rounded the bases.

It’s clear to see that Wampler, a senior who has signed with the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, is locked in.

She had two of Holston’s three hits on Wednesday in a semifinal win over Parry McCluer and then went 3-for-4 on Thursday against the hard-throwing Booth.

What’s been her secret?

“Just practice,” Wampler said. “[Coach Blackburn will] ask us if we want to hit in the cage and do extra hitting and I do. Not just me, but everybody else too.”

If there was a regional tournament most valuable player award handed out, it would have likely been shared by Wampler and Holston senior pitcher Madison Garrett.

Patrick Henry had at least one batter reach base in all but one inning against Garrett, but the only real damage the Rebels inflicted came on Lacy Robinson’s two-run homer in the bottom of the third inning.

Garrett seems to pitch better when she gets in jams and she escaped several of them on Thursday.

“After you’ve played so long, you just take pressure as it comes and you have to play every pitch, every inning,” Garrett said. “You just have to think about the game as it is right then.”

That approach is a tried-and-true philosophy for a team that won its three regional tournament games by scores of 4-1, 1-0 and 3-2.

“There’s nothing like that experience when you know you have to make the play and you are trying really hard to step up for your team,” Blackburn said. “We’ve talked about that.”

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Patrick Henry was talking about missed opportunities.

The Rebels pounded out 10 hits and struck out just once, but timely hits evaded them.

PH had two runners thrown out attempting to steal and hit into an inning-ending double play in the fifth.

“We hit the ball well,” said Patrick Henry coach Tami Counts. “We had a couple of running miscues on the bases that kind of hurt us. … It is what it is. We played; it’s not like we didn’t show up. I told them we have to be ready for next week, it’s a new season.”

Hannah Holmes (3-for-3), Hannah Carver (two hits) and Robinson (two hits) were the top hitters for Patrick Henry, while Booth struck out 11 in a five-hitter.

PH is in the state tournament for the first time since 2004, so this will be a new experience for the Rebels.

The Cavaliers are two years removed from an 11-7 state semifinal loss to Parry McCluer, a game in which a team comprised mostly of sophomores committed nine errors.

Those sophomores are now seniors.

“When we went the last time, they were just excited to be there and being a part of the final four,” said Blackburn, whose team also received two hits from Brianna Vannoy. “This time they have a hunger for it and they have experience. I think the nervousness is gone and they are going up there with a purpose this time.”