GRANVILLE – Kori Locke finished what she started, with a little help from her friends.
Last week, visiting Licking Valley left with a 1-0 lead against Granville when the rains hit in the second inning. On Tuesday, the Panthers returned, departing with a 1-0 Licking County League win after Locke effectively scattered six hits and stranded four runners in scoring position.
“It was kind of tough,” said Locke, who struck out five and walked one. “They saw me a little bit last week, then saw me again against Chardon (at Granville) on Saturday. They’re a good-hitting team and got the bat on the ball. It’s a good thing my center fielder was where she should be.”
Payton Brownlee ran down Abby Barker’s potential game-tying homer at the fence in the sixth inning. Shelby Sprouse then doubled to right-center, but Locke got two consecutive pop-ups to second baseman Krissy Hughes.
Locke had to out-duel Barker, who allowed only three hits, including Locke’s first-inning RBI single. She struck out nine with two walks.
“Our hitting was not there against Lakewood, and it wasn’t tonight,” Valley catcher Kori Caughenbaugh said. “But a lot of our girls hadn’t seen a pitcher like her (Barker). Both were 1-0 scores, and that just means our pitching and defense were doing really well.”
The Panthers (4-1, 3-1) were on the short end of 1-0 against Lakewood, but came out on the plus side against Granville (6-3, 3-2) thanks to the improved Locke, who has taken over admirably from graduated All-Ohio ace Shelby McCombs.
“Nobody had heard of her before this season, but look who she was behind the last three years,” Caughenbaugh said. “She could have definitely started for a lot of teams. She threw the ball great today and hit her spots. Her pitches really move, and she has a lot more speed throwing them.”
Olivia Simon and Barker had back-to-back singles in the first and third innings, but the Blue Aces couldn’t score. In the fourth, Sophia Ehlers singled and reached second with one out but was left stranded.
While disappointed in the loss, coach Rae Stuart sees her young team starting to come together.
“I think we’ve finally figured out what our lineup should be, but for this game, we had to go back to the one we used last week,” she said. “It might have hurt us a little. We just couldn’t string the hits together. From top to bottom of the lineup, our freshmen have stepped up.
“We really came ready to play today. Abby pitched well, and we made great plays in the infield and outfield.”
Locke knows Valley must step things up at the plate. She singled in Carly Skeese in the first, after Skeese walked and stole second, but the Panthers had only two other hits and got just two more runners in scoring position.
“Our hitting is not where we want it to be,” she said. “We need to get more runs on the board, do the little things like coach (Mark Paxton) keeps talking about.”