MIDDLETOWN — With its field deluged by rain in March, the Middletown softball team headed to the school’s stadium to squeeze in a practice on the artificial turf.
That’s when the Knights’ season took a dramatic turn for the worse prior to it even starting.
Senior Victoria McClain, the team’s ace pitcher, was struck in the face by a batted ball, which fractured her sinus cavity.
“It wasn’t a can of corn [pop fly], we’ll put it that way,” said her father, Ed, who coaches the team.
The injury forced McClain to miss the first seven games of Middletown’s season, and, subsequently, the Knights suffered as a result, dropping six of their first eight games.
But with McClain now healthy again and back in the circle, their season gotten dramatically better, and now they are thinking about winning a state title again.
On Thursday afternoon, in a pitcher’s dual with her travel softball teammate, Lindsey Windsor of Walkersville, McClain tossed a three-hit shutout to lift Middletown into the next round of the Class 2A softball playoffs with a 2-0 victory over the Lions.
The Knights (10-9), winners of eight of their past 11, will travel to face top-seeded Damascus on Monday in the 2A West Section II semifinals.
“Our team, we come together. We pick each other up,” said Victoria McClain, who struck out five and walked none. “A lot of work went into this. I had good defense behind me. I believed in my team.”
McClain knew she needed her best stuff because Windsor, her Heartbreakers travel teammate, was on her game, as well.
Middletown managed to push a run across in the second on an error and a bloop single into shallow right-center field. It added another in the fifth when McClain doubled to the left-field wall facing two outs and two strikes in the count.
That brought home speedy Kyra Morgan, a junior varsity call-up who had earlier tripled.
“I knew coming in that it was going to be a pitcher’s duel, and somebody was going to have to make that hit,” Ed McClain said. “We came together at the right time.”
Walkersville (7-12) was retired in order in each of the first three innings. The Lions got their first baserunner with one out in the fourth when Kate Jensen cracked a double to the wall in left-center.
She then advanced to third when the next batter, Abbie Peterson, singled. But Walkersville could not bring Jensen home.
The Lions picked up their only other baserunner when Justeen Cooley smacked a singled off McClain with two outs in the seventh inning.
“It was pretty much a pitcher’s duel,” Walkersville coach Erinne Warrenfeltz said. “We just had to hope that one or two hits were going to drop in.”
McClain just never really let it happen, mixing her powerful rise ball with some good off-speed pitches. She retired the first 10 she faced and 21 of 24 overall.
“We are going to take it one game at a time. But we are trying to make it to states,” she said.