By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
From the beginning, Westside’s softball team has played in Wyoming East’s shadow.
It’s the Renegades, not the Warriors, who will play Independence in a Class AA Region 3 semifinal Thursday in Coal City.
“This team has fought hard all season to show we have what it takes,” coach Sarah Patrick said after Westside took two of three games from East in the Section 2 tournament at Clear Fork. “I was so happy for them, for the first time in my life I was speechless. I wanted them to win it so bad.”
The sectional crown was a long time coming — the Renegades had never advanced out of its section since the school’s inception in 2002.
Watching East dominate was tough for Patrick, a 28-year coaching veteran who won a lot of games at Baileysville High School before it consolidated with Oceana High to form Westside.
“I had some good teams at Baileysville, but we’ve been in a slump here,” she said. “I knew we had the talent this year, but what we would do with it, I wasn’t sure.”
The Renegades started slowly, losing four of their first seven games. Then they took off. They went 17-2 the rest of the way, including a 4-1 win, a nine-inning 3-2 loss and a 3-1 victory over Wyoming East in the sectional.
“After East won the second game, I told the girls if they came back with the attitude we had in the first game, we’d be fine,” Patrick said. “You could tell we wanted it more.”
Wyoming East had more hits in the final, 8-2, but the Renegades made the most of what they got. Kasey Walls doubled in a run and scored on an error in the second inning, and then helped bring home an insurance run in the fourth with a ground ball that was misplayed.
Pitcher Cassidee Blankenship did the rest, holding the Warriors scoreless after the first inning. She struck out six while walking just two batters.
Blankenship, a sophomore, pitched every varsity game but two and struck out 165 batters in the regular season.
“Cassidee is calm and collected. Things don’t rattle her,” Patrick said. She’s a very confident pitcher — She knows she carries a big load, but she comes through with it.”
Blankenship throws a strong fast ball, but has five other pitches.
“She likes to bring the heat, but all her pitches look good to me,” Patrick said. “She’s got a good change-up, but she doesn’t like to throw it.”
Junior catcher Leah Pack has four home runs, including two in the opening win over East.
Infielders include Walls at first base, her sister Kelsey at second, Stephanie Brown at shortstop and third baseman Logan Osborne.
The outfielders are Taylor Grimmett, Alexis Walls and Alisha McCracken.
Osborne, Grimmett and McCracken are the only senior starters. Lester, who’s batting .444, and Kasey Walls are freshmen.
Patrick said Alexis Walls was the MVP for the sectional.
“She caught balls (in center field) that nobody else would get to,” Patrick said of the junior. “She was phenomenal.”
The Renegades scored 10 runs or more eight times, including a 17-5 whipping of Van and 16-0 over Mingo Central. Their worst loss was 5-0 to Man on April 18.
“The longer we played, the more confident the kids got,” Patrick said. “They’ll tell you we’re not done. Not if they bring their ‘A’ game.”
Independence is 6-11, having made two stirring comebacks against Liberty in the Section 1 tournament. The Patriots and Westside did not play during the regular season.
— E-mail: dstillwell