Abby Faught

Vinton County's Abby Faught tossed a shutout and struck out seven batters as the Vikings knocked off Athens from the top of the TVC standings with a 6-1 victory on Friday. 

McARTHUR — Abby Faught was well aware of what was at stake on Friday when Vinton County hosted Athens. 

Athens was a win away from a Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division championship, with Faught and the Vikings standing in the Bulldogs' way. 

"We had that mentality that they were not going to take the TVC title on our field," Faught said. "When we had our huddle out there I said 'do not let them celebrate their TVC title on our field.'"

Faught backed it up on with her arm and her bat, as the Vikings continued their late-season surge. 

Faught pitched a one-hitter and had a three-RBI single in Vinton County's 6-1 victory over the Bulldogs in McArthur. 

Athens was playing for a championship, but the night belonged to Faught and the Vikings. 

"The kids are disappointed, but tip your cap to Abby," Athens coach Roger Bissell said. "She pitched a good game."

Faught struck out seven and walked four. Athens' only hit was Abbi Ervin's bunt single in the sixth inning. 

"I think the biggest thing was she was just getting ahead of hitters," Vinton County coach Jeremy Ward said. "Ironically, her changeup really wasn't all that effective so really, she was just throwing hard stuff in, hard stuff out. She's thrown the ball extremely well the last week and a half."

Athens beat Vinton County 4-1 in the first meeting on April 16. The Bulldogs had six hits against Faught, who pitched 4 1-3 innings. 

Faught said she had command of her screwball, changeup and rise ball in the rematch.  

"I didn't miss any spots tonight. I think that's what kept them off-balanced," Faught said. "When we went to Ahens, I missed my spots a few times and they made me pay for it, but tonight I knew I wasn't missing my spots."

The loss ends a seven-game winning streak for Athens (21-5), which finishes 10-2 in the TVC-Ohio. 

The result allows Wellston (10-1 TVC-Ohio) to clinch at least a share of the league title. The Rockets can win the crown outright at Meigs on Wednesday.

Vinton County (14-8, 5-6 TVC-Ohio) played from ahead all game after striking in the first inning. 

Kerrigan Ward hit a ball the opposite way to left field, a shot that was just off the glove of a sprinting Bailee Toadvine. 

The two-out double scored Breanna Sexton and courtesy runner Emily Phillips, allowing the Vikings to lead 2-0. 

It was only the first inning, but the way Faught ultimately pitched in the circle, it proved to be a deficit Athens would not dig out of. 

"I think it was just a huge momentum shift," Jeremy Ward said. "Certainly, there's a lot more pressure on them trying to close out a league championship. The quicker we got off and got the lead, the easier it was going to be to keep the pressure on them and that's certainly what happened."

Faught continued to apply the pressure on Athens' hitters. She worked around walks in the second, third and fifth innings, making quick work of the Bulldogs. 

Athens sophomore Ashleigh James settled in as well after the first inning, holding the deficit at 2-0 until the fifth inning. 

The Vikings scored four runs with two outs in the fifth to pull away. It started with singles by Ashley Forrest and Sexton. Taylor Houdasheldt's double to left field gave Vinton County a 3-0 lead. 

Sydney Smith drew a walk, loading the bases with Faught coming to the plate. 

The senior got a pitch she could hit, driving the softball into the left-center field gap. 

Three runs came home on the single, the Vikings now leading 6-0. 

"I was so excited," Faught said. "It was such an awesome hit. I knew from that point on, I was pretty high up on myself and I think everyone else was too."

The Bulldogs tried to piece together a rally against Faught in the sixth. Olivia Banks led off with a walk, and Ervin put down her bunt. 

Faught retrieved the ball in front of the pitching circle, but Ervin beat the throw to first. Athens would eventually push the runners to second and third after a wild pitch. 

Faught buckled down, getting a strikeout and two ground outs to end the threat. The Bulldogs scored Banks on James' grounder to third, but got no closer. 

Faught retired the side in order in the seventh, giving the Vikings their biggest win of the season. 

Vinton County has won four league games in a row behind Faught, a University of Rio Grande commit. 

"She's thrown a lot better and that just it makes it easier on the rest of us when you see her relaxed and in a groove," Jeremy Ward said. "We're just so proud and so happy because she kind of got off to a rough start. It's just so great to see her have this success down the stretch."

The Vikings still have a TVC-Ohio game at River Valley to make up. They'll get another home game in the Division II sectional tournament against McClain on Monday. 

"I think for our kids it's really important that we keep things simple and in perspective and handle what we can control," Jeremy Ward said. "We have a lot of kids that can hit, a lot of tough outs in the lineup. We're going to make mistakes, but when we're pitching, we're extremely dangerous."

The regular season is over for the Bulldogs and the league race is out of their hands. Bissell said the message afterwards was turning the page to the postseason. 

"I told girls out there, we can't let this game define how the season went," Bissell said. "They'll be back. We're young. We take this one, we move on. We still have work to do. We didn't get our first goal that we set out to get, but there's more to come.

"Abby pitched a good game," he added. "She was mentally prepared for this. I think she wanted it as a senior. It's a big win for her. My hats off to her. She pitched us well."

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