The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

High School Sports

May 27, 2014

Westside hopes to showcase pitching, defense

Lady Renegades face Lady Rebels in opening round today in Vienna

BECKLEY — Compared to many of the teams playing today in the state softball tournament in Vienna, Westside is not exactly an offensive powerhouse.

That’s fine with coach Sarah Patrick.

Sure, four of her top 11 players are batting under .300. The primary home run hitter has just four.

And in their four sectional and regional tournament games, the Lady Renegades scored a gargantuan 10 runs.

“Batting is not our strong point,” Patrick said.

With a grin.

When Westside (18-2) makes its first-ever appearance at states, taking on Ritchie County (25-5) at 9:45 a.m. at Jackson Park, she’s confident the Renegades’ strong suits, pitching and defense, will be in evidence.

Junior right-hander Cassie Blankenship is 15-2 in the circle with an earned run average of 2.01. She has 137 strikeouts in 93 innings.

She’s pitched perhaps the best of her career in the tournaments, downing arch-rival Wyoming East 1-0 and 5-4, stopping a much-improved Liberty 3-1 and, last Thursday, spinning a four-hitter in a 1-0 revenge victory over a very explosive James Monroe club.

“Cassie has waited three years for this,” Patrick said. “She has several pitches, but (what’s big) is her confidence. She usually doesn’t let things bother her.”

That confidence temporarily showed some cracks against East, but Blankenship rose to the occasion.

“She walked a couple of girls right off the bat and she got emotional,” Patrick said. “But she knew she had to get them out. She calmed down and got herself together.

“It seems like when people say negative things to her, it fuels her more.”

Blankenship also doesn’t seem to tire.

“You can tell some pitchers are getting tired in the sixth and seventh innings, but Cass gets stronger. She gets better the longer she goes.

“I have all the confidence in the world in her.”

Then there’s the Westside defense, which made believers out of James Monroe.

Two double plays were standouts. Senior center fielder Alexis Walls fired a perfect strike to catcher Leah Pack to gun down a Lady Mav at the plate, and freshman third baseman Carly Puett charged in, snagged a bunt and threw to first baseman Kacie Walls to catch a runner off the bag.

Patrick takes great pride in the Lady Renegades’ defense, which has recorded 10 shutouts.

“I’d put my defense up against any team in southern West Virginia,” Patrick said. “It’s gotten us where we’re at today.”

Still, it takes runs to win, and the offense has certainly scored enough runs to win 95 percent of its games.

Sophomore designated player Christian Price is the Lady Renegades’ leading hitter as well as their emotional leader.

Coming off ACL surgery, she’s batting .562 with four home runs, 10 doubles and eight triples. When she’s not giving opposing pitchers fits, she’s giving encouragement to her teammates.

“Christian is constantly talking up the kids,” Patrick said. “If they make a mistake, she’ll tell them to shake it off, that they’ll get them next time. She’s a good athlete with a good head on her shoulders.”

Pack, the senior catcher, is hitting at a .428 clip with 18 runs batted in. Freshman right fielder-pitcher Ali Fleenor is batting .400 and is also unbeaten in her three varsity starts in the circle.

Junior shortstop Stephanie Brown, a key player on Westside’s state champion basketball team, hits .394. Puett is next at .384., followed by Blankenship (.350), second baseman Kelsey Walls (.306), left fielder Ashton Lester (.294), reserve outfielder Courtney Morgan (.280), Alexis Walls (.270) and Kacie Walls (.195).

The one thing Patrick can’t control is nerves. The school’s volleyball team had butterflies last fall when it made its state tournament debut, and it showed in its quick exit. The basketball team, on the other hand, played like the Charleston Civic Center was its practice gym.

“I know our kids will be nervous. They haven’t been there before and don’t know what to expect,” Patrick said. “We had a long talk about that (Monday) in practice.

“We have to be focused.”

— E-mail: dstillwell@register-herald.com

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