CABOT -- Conway's band of youngsters grew up in a big way Thursday.
The Lady Wampus Cats got a two-run home run from sophomore shortstop Allie McMillen and a valiant pitching performance from her classmate, Katlyn Erickson, to knock off Cabot 2-1 at the Lady Panthers Softball Complex.
Conway (17-6, 7-3 6A-Central) had lost eight of its previous nine games against Cabot, including an 8-2 home loss March 31. But McMillen's blast and Erickson's arm spearheaded an energetic effort that allowed the Lady Wampus Cats to turn the tables.
"This is huge for us, it really is," Conway Coach Chata Hickey said. "There's just one girl that was out on that field for us that had legitimate varsity experience, just one. To try to get these young kids to buy in and believe that they can [win]. ... I'm just so proud of them, especially Katlyn."
Hickey, who started five sophomores and one freshman in the game, talked about how Erickson had been working through mechanical and confidence issues. However, the hard-throwing righthander delivered when Conway needed it.
Erickson allowed 3 hits and struck out 5 while also walking 6 to earn the victory. She also got a great deal support from her teammates, particularly in the outfield. Senior right fielder Aly Hall had a diving catch early on that almost certainly would have resulted in extra bases for the Lady Panthers. Also, freshman left fielder Breelyn Conley and sophomore center fielder Sofia King tracked down two deeply hit balls at the wall from Cabot sophomore Akayla Barnard to stop a pair of potential surges.
"[Erickson] stayed the course, and I'm so happy for her," Hickey said. "And what was really great to see was that extra added hustle from everybody behind her. Aly, Breelyn, Sofia, all of them. They had Katlyn's back and picked her up. You love to see that out of your team."
All of the game's scoring occurred in the third inning. King, who finished with three hits, opened up the inning with a single. Two batters later, McMillen sent an 0-2 pitch from Barnard over the right-field wall to give the Lady Wampus Cats a 2-0 lead.
Cabot (19-3, 9-1) got one of those runs back in the bottom half of the inning when Barnard ripped a line-drive shot over the center field wall to cut the Lady Panthers' deficit in half. But Cabot wasn't able to string together enough timely hits to jump out front.
The Lady Panthers left nine runners on base, including three in the fifth when they loaded the bases with two outs. Cabot also had a runner on with one out in the seventh, but Erickson was able to get out of the jams each time. She struck out the last two batters in the final inning to win it for Conway.
Barnard gave up just six hits and struck out 13 in a workmanlike outing for the Lady Panthers, who suffered their first conference loss of the season.
"I've got to say, Akayla Barnard is a great pitcher," Hickey said. "She locates well, and she throws hard. We went in with the mindset that we just had to work the count and try to do what we could with it.
"We all had our roles to play and did the best we could do. And I'm so proud because they worked so hard for this."