By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
The James Monroe High School softball team scratched its way up to the championship game of Class AA softball this week.
Then, on Thursday afternoon, they ran up against a better team.
The Pioneers of Wayne High School repeated as state champions by turning back the Lady Mavericks 5-1 at Jackson Memorial Park in the Parkersburg suburbs.
“They’re a good solid ball team top to bottom, offensively, defensively,” James Monroe (25-7) head coach Greg Wickline said about Wayne (29-6). “They’re here for a reason. Wish we could have given them a little bit better game.”
Samantha Ferguson, who got one of James Monroe’s two hits, said, “We’re a better team than that. I think we played really good ball in this tournament. I think we did great.”
Mikayla Wickline ended her high school pitching career by striking out nine Pioneers in six innings, but Wayne pitcher Jessie Rowe tossed a no-hitter until the final inning, and only one James Monroe batter got a ball out of the infield until then.
Wednesday night’s meltdown against Wayne had put the Lady Mavs into an elimination game on Thursday morning, and it took an extra inning for the girls from Monroe County to get past Ritchie County 2-1 and earn the first championship-game berth in program history.
Greg Wickline said, “Their pitcher was pretty daggone good, so we were pleased to come out with that win. Then we just fell a little short today, with Wayne. But I’m very proud of our girls and the way they conducted and handled themselves through this tournament.”
“This is our first rodeo, so I was very pleased with how they handled everything.”
“We just didn’t hit the ball very well, that’s for sure. We’re typically not a bad hitting ball team. ... Hats off to the pitcher from Wayne. She’s good.”
The Lady Mavs got the early advantage. On the third pitch of the game, freshman Bailee Jackson of James Monroe took first base on an error. Two outs later, she scored an unearned run on another error — which would be Wayne’s last.
Jackson said, “I thought we could come on and win, because we got that jump, but it didn’t turn out that way.”
Greg Wickline said, “I was kind of hoping it might spark a little something. ... Wayne was supposed to be the team to beat down here, defending state champions and everything, but the girls came out and it didn’t seem to bother them a bit.”
But before the first inning was done, the Pioneers took a 2-1 lead, aided by two illegal pitch calls against Wickline. As in previous games in the state tournament, the officiating crew ruled that her foot left the ground too early during delivery of the ball, and the penalty was that her pitch was ruled a ball, and any base runner was allowed to move up.
Wayne’s Jessica Watts drew a four-pitch walk, and scored via an RBI single by Jacey Parsons. A sacrifice fly by Kasey Endicott drove Parsons home for a lead the Pioneers never gave up.
Another run was about to score late in the second, but James Monroe shortstop Becca Ratliff dropped deep behind the baseline to snag a grounder and rifled the ball hard to first, ending the inning.
Watts walked again in the third, and she and Parsons scored for a 4-1 lead. Endicott’s home run over the left-field wall for a 5-1 advantage in the fifth.
Meanwhile, Wayne throttled the Lady Mavs’ offense. After the two base runners due to errors in the first inning, Rowe and her defense sat down 13 straight James Monroe batters.
In the top of the seventh, Rowe stood in the pitcher’s circle with the strain of closing the game out showing on her face.
Rowe said, “We knew we needed three outs. We knew we could to it.”
After two quick outs, she faced Samantha Ferguson, who got the Lady Mavs’ first hit with a double to deep left. Mikayla Wickline followed with a single up the middle. Ratliff fought through a seven-pitch at bat to earn a base on balls, loading up the diamond and bringing the potential tying run to the plate.
Greg Wickline said that as he stood in the coach’s box, “I was thinking, ‘Man, the girls just never give up.’ They could have ... it was 4-1 and it looked like they had everything under control. And we come out, and get a couple of nice hits. I was just very proud of how they didn’t give up.”
Ferguson said, “When I got that hit, I was hoping that the hitting would get contagious and we’d all start hitting it.”
Greg Wickline said, “Four runs, you never know what might have happened.”
Kelsie Gillespie, one of three seniors on the Lady Mavericks, grounded out to end the game.
Rowe said about James Monroe, “They were a competitive lineup, but I just came out with every pitch like it was a whole new ballgame.”
Greg Wickline said, ”They’re just a really good squad – and we didn’t hit the ball very well.”
In Thursday’s first game, James Monroe squeezed out a 1-0 lead on Ritchie County when Hillary Hersman scored on Ferguson’s sacrifice fly in the fourth, but the Rebels tied it just minutes later on an RBI double by Leah Kuhn.
Two Lady Mavs were cut down at the plate trying to score in the game, which went to an eighth inning. Mikayla Wickline made short work of the Rebels, striking out two and inducing a popup. She had 14 strikeouts in the game.
Ritchie County turned to a relief pitcher, Moie Ray, in the bottom of the eighth. She gave up three straight singles, to Megan Bailey, Hersman and Laine Shiflet. The last one drove in Bailey with the game-winning run that sent the Lady Mavs to the championship.
Ritchie County had faced Wayne in last year's state title game.
Shiflet was 3 for 4 at the plate against Ritchie County.
Gillespie said about facing Wayne again, after the Pioneers had scored 14 runs on them the night before, “We just knew that we had to put that behind us, that we could do it, and put our best foot forward.”
Ferguson said about the tournament journey, “When I first got here, I was like, ‘We’re actually at states.’ And now, after the first few minutes, it was like, ‘We’re here, and we’re dominating. We can do it. We can win.’ It still means a lot that we made it this far.”
Greg Wickline said about Mikayla Wickline, his cousin, “Mikayla’s awesome. She had to battle, big-time, down here in this state tournament, as far as them calling the illegal pitches and stuff like that. I would have liked to think it could possibly have been a different outcome if it wasn’t for that.”
“She has done wonderful, all four years at James Monroe. She’s a straight-A student. All the time and work she’s put into this. I’m sure her goal was to win the state title, but anyway ...
“She’s just a phenomenal kid. She’ll do real well in the rest of her life. I’m glad we were able at least able to come down here and give her this opportunity to try to get a state title. This will be something she’ll remember the rest of her life.”
She will not be the only one. A James Monroe fan, Nellie Wickline, as she left the softball venue, commented, “They’re still No. 1 with us. They represented Monroe County well.”
The all-tournament team included Wickline, Ferguson and Shiflet of James Monroe; Wayne’s Rowe, Watts, Parsons and Emily Thompson; Ritchie County’s Moie Ray and Delancey; and Marley Thompson of Petersburg.
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