POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. -- The innings wore on but the runs weren't coming for the St. Albans softball team Thursday night during its Class AAA Region 4 semifinal at Point Pleasant.
Still, Red Dragons Coach Greg Garber was feeling good.
He liked the way his players were making contact with the ball, and figured that, at some point, those shots would stop falling where Point Pleasant players were and start falling where they weren't.
That breakthrough finally came in the sixth inning, and the Red Dragons tagged the Big Blacks for six runs in the final two innings. Ali Haynes threw a five-hit shutout and belted a three-run home run in the seventh, as St. Albans beat Point Pleasant 6-0 to advance to next Thursday's Region 4 title game.
"I was waiting until we could see (Point Pleasant pitcher Madison Barker) some more, because I knew those hits were going to get in," Garber said. "It turned out in that six runs you saw, it was the little things."
The Red Dragons (28-4) slowly, but steadily, notched three runs in the sixth. No. 9 hitter Madi Chandler bunted and beat the throw to first, moved to second on a Madi Marshall single to left and scored on a double to left by Mariah Caudill. Marshall scored by beating the throw to home on an Alyssa Bonham bunt, then Caudill came home when Bonham stole second and the throw to second rolled into the outfield.
St. Albans' three runs in the seventh came quicker, when Haynes crushed a Barker pitch over the right-field fence with one out to bring home Katie Holstein and Chandler.
Haynes struck out two Point Pleasant batters, both in the third, and it was the Red Dragons' defense that kept the Big Blacks off the scoreboard. After Megan Davis led off with a single for the Point Pleasant (17-8) in the fourth, Haynes caught a short Kaitlin Liptrap popup and tagged Davis for a double play.
Then, with Point Pleasant runners on second and third later in the fourth, Marshall made a diving grab - her first of several - for the third out.
"I think we all brought our 'A' game today, from all over," Marshall said. "Ali and Mariah, the whole infield, the whole outfield getting the ball in quick. Offensively, defensively, 'A' game. We all brought it."
Haynes said she was never worried when Point Pleasant connected with a pitch, because she knew her teammates would be in the right place.
"I've always trusted my defense," she said. "And tonight it showed that it's a good thing I trust them. When I did miss pitches, my defense sure as heck didn't let the other team take advantage of it."
The Red Dragons field just two seniors on their roster, Haynes and catcher Caudill. Even with a young team, St. Albans is headed to the regional final for the first time since it won the state title in 2010, when Haynes and Caudill were freshmen.
"We know what it feels like to go to states," Caudill said. "That's what we've been trying to pound into the girls' heads. We are a young team. But Coach always says he puts pressure on us in practice and the games are no different."