Welcome back Afton.
Four seasons removed from its last Midstate Athletic Conference softball championship, Afton rode a two-hitter from Cassidy Phillips to return to the top of the league with a 3-1 victory over visiting Hancock on Thursday.
Phillips struck out 14, walked one and hit a batter for the Crimson Knights (15-1), who lost the last three MAC title games to Greene.
“I would have liked to see us do more with 12 stranded runners,” said Afton coach Cindy Bostelman, whose program won its eighth MAC crown since the league formed in the 2001-02 academic year. “That’s a mistake. Hancock had to play good defense and they did, so you can’t take it away from them.”
Phillips improved to 11-1 with her third game of 14 or more strikeouts this season. Phillips, who allowed singles to Brooke Sherburne in the fourth and Meghan Smith in the seventh, also helped out at the plate with an RBI single that capped the scoring in a three-run third inning.
Sierra Palmer led off with a double to left field before Payton Cutting walked to put runners at first and second.
Bailey Sherman followed with a sharp grounder that was misplayed at third base, scoring Palmer to tie it at 1. Connor Decker and Phillips then hit back-to-back RBI singles before losing pitcher Lea Newman got the next three batters out.
The Crimson Knights also left the bases loaded in the first and fifth innings.
“We played a flat game,” said Bostelman, whose girls beat Hancock, 7-2, during the regular season, “but they have a nice little team right there.”
Newman struck out nine and walked none for the Wildcats, who scored without a hit in the sixth.
Newman started the rally with a hard comebacker that caromed off Phillips’ shin for an error, then advanced to second on a passed ball and to third on a wild pitch. Kayla Barringer followed with an RBI fielder’s choice, which marked the second out of the inning.
Decker provided the only mutiple-hit effort, going 2-for-4 with an RBI for the Crimson Knights, who are seeded first for the upcoming Section Four Class D Tournament.
Afton hosts a first-round game against No. 16 Downsville at 4:30 p.m. next Thursday.