GRANITEVILLE — Kelsey Boatwright made her first-ever postseason start Monday. The sophomore came up big, tossing a shutout as the Midland Valley High School softball team defeated Socastee 2-0.

Boatwright's performance in the circle and the all-around efforts of shortstop Carly Clark ensured the Mustangs remained undefeated through their first two Class AAA playoff games. That allows them to rest and prepare for their next game on Friday, when they'll play host to the winner of the elimination contest between Socastee and Berkeley.

“We've got to sit and wait,” Midland Valley head coach Michelle Yeater said with a smile, acknowledging the advantageous position her team is in, only having to win one of two possible games on Friday to advance to the Lower State championship bracket. “They'll be at 6 and 8 p.m.”

The Mustangs are able to prepare for Friday, instead of traveling to Berkeley on Wednesday with their season on the line, because of a fundamentally solid pitching performance buoyed by strong defense and just enough hitting. Clark went 2-for-2 that included a nine-pitch walk and a solo home run in the third inning for the first score of the game.

Because of her efforts on the infield and Boatwright's strong start, it was the only run the Mustangs needed.

Boatwright came out firing. She was specifically chosen by Yeater for the start against Socastee because of her assortment of pitches. Early on, she was overpowering the Lady Braves, retiring the first seven batters and nine of the first 10 to step into the box.

“They have good hitters, and Kelsey came in, she has a good mix of pitches. … She mixed it up a lot. She used off-speed and out-and-in pitches,” Yeater said of Boatwright, who recorded all five of her strikeouts in the first five innings of the game. “She had a great outing and kept them off balance.”

When Boatwright wasn't making the Lady Braves whiff, she was picked up by good plays in the field. Clark got a critical out at second base in the third inning, fielding a hard throw from Boatwright – who gloved a comebacker – and recorded the out at second in spite of a charging base runner bearing down on her. Even though Clark couldn't turn the double play, she had an exceptional day in the field. She caught three fly balls, including one in the fifth inning where she ranged behind third base to snare a sharply falling liner that allowed Boatwright to escape a jam with runners on second and third unscathed. For the game, Midland Valley was flawless in the field, avoiding committing a single error.

“She's our senior leader on the field,” Yeater said of Clark. “She's filled the position offensively and defensively.”

After coming up empty in a bases-loaded situation in the first inning, the Mustangs rewarded Boatwright with two runs in the third inning. Clark, who singled in the first inning, came to the plate with nobody on base and one out and promptly connected with a pitch from Savannah Talley (3? innings pitched, two runs on six hits and a walk with three strikeouts). At that point in the game, the wind was blowing out and Clark's high, fly ball caught enough of the jet stream to carry over the left-field fence for a solo home run.

“I just (saw) it and hit it,” Clark reflected of her shot that sparked the Mustangs' bats.

Catcher Morgan Smith and third baseman Amber Hong (2-for-2) and hit by a pitch) followed with back-to-back singles, starting another rally. They both moved into scoring position thanks to a passed ball, and Smith scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Emily Mayson.

But that was the sum total of Midland Valley's run-scoring production. It stranded Hong in scoring position and left the bases loaded without scoring again in the fourth inning as Talley was replaced by Hailey LeDuc. It only had one base hit in the final two innings.

“When the bases are loaded, we've got to jump on that and capitalize,” said Yeater, who stuck with Boatwright down the stretch as Socastee continued to threaten to score. “I was leaving her in.”

When the Lady Braves adjusted to Boatwright's mix, Yeater instructed her to alter the strategy. Rather than moving the ball around, Boatwright reared back and tried to jam the batters. She had mixed results.

After avoiding trouble the first three innings, Boatwright found herself constantly battling out of jams the final four innings. She surrendered six base hits and a walk in that span as the Lady Braves moved runners into scoring position each of the last three innings.

Although Boatwright bent, she never broke. She pitched to contact, relying on her defense to back her up and stranded four runners in scoring position as she pitched with a slim lead.

“She hit all the spots,” Clark said of her pitcher's complete-game performance which resulted in a critical win. “It's big, We're at home for the district championship.”

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.

SOC 000 000 0xx – 0 7 1

MV 002 000 xxx – 2 7 0

WP: Kelsey Boatwright

LP: Savannah Talley