By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
From the outset, James Monroe’s mission was clear: Get to the state softball tournament.
And the Mavericks did just that. They’ll play Petersburg at approximately noon Wednesday in a first-round Class AA game in Vienna.
“This year we had states in our eyes,” coach Greg Wickline said. “From the very first day we talked about it.”
James Monroe (23-5) roared through the season, beating every Class AA team in its path and losing only to triple-A Logan, Hurricane, Shady Spring (twice) and Greenbrier East.
The Mavericks defeated Region 3 runner-up Westside 7-6 in the regular season and 6-2 in the championship game Thursday.
“The girls are confident. We played in the Chapmanville Tournament, and the atmosphere and quality of opponents (Hurricane, Chapmanville, a 1-0 win, and Point Pleasant, 5-2) we faced definitely helped us,” Wickline said.
The state tournament will be the swan song for James Monroe ace Mikayla Wickline, a starter since her sophomore season.
She’s 13-2 with a sterling 0.47 ERA. In 89 innings she allowed just six earned runs, struck out 172 batters and walked 29.
“Mikayla has a lot more command of her pitches,” Greg Wickline (her uncle) said. “She’s got a pretty decent arsenal of pitches, and wherever I want it, that’s where she puts it.”
The Mavericks’ bats have supported her well, led by standout third baseman Laine Shifflett. The sophomore is batting .493 with six home runs, 31 RBIs, 26 runs, seven doubles and one triple.
“Laine hits the ball a ton, and she’s phenomenal on defense,” Wickline said. “She’s probably as good a third baseman as you’ll come across.”
While Wickline and Shifflett have been the stars, Kelsie Gillespie could qualify as James Monroe’s unsung hero. Normally a first baseman, she went behind the plate when Jenna Hancock blew out her knee early in the season.
Gillespie committed just 13 passed balls — a stat nearly any catcher would envy.
“Kelsie has done a wonderful job,” Greg Wickline said. “She’s hard-working and dedicated. I’d love to have 15 of her.”
Gillespie is batting .316 with 13 RBIs.
Besides Shifflett, the Mavs’ infield features junior first baseman Samantha Ferguson (.236, 27 RBI); junior second baseman Hillary Hersman (.360, 19 RBI) and sophomore shortstop Rebecca Ratliff (.411, 18 runs, 15 RBI).
Ratliff is also the backup pitcher, with an 8-2 record, a 3.56 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 59 innings.
The outfield is all freshmen: Megan Bailey (.411, 20 runs, 16 RBI, 11 stolen bases) in left; defensive ace Bailee Jackson (.233, 19 runs, 12 stolen bases) in center; and right fielder Haileah Pickles (.333.17 RBI, 9 stolen bases).
“I feel pretty solid with the freshmen in the outfield,” Wickline said. “In the past, we’ve had some outfield plays in the regionals that shouldn’t have happened. But with the group we have now, we won’t make the same mistakes.”
First-round foe Petersburg is 27-6, coming off an 11-10 victory over Robert C. Byrd last week in the regionals.
Junior pitcher-shortstop-outfielder Marley Thompson leads the team with a .509 batting average. First baseman Brittani Bible, also a junior, is hitting at a .500 clip.
“We don’t know anything about them, but they scored 11 runs against Robert C. Byrd,” Wickline said. “That’s some firepower.
“But we’re ready to play. The girls will probably be nervous, but they were against Westside. It showed the game meant something to them.
“We’re ready to go.”
— E-mail: dstillwell@