By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Class A Fayetteville’s softball schedule was rough at the end, to say the least.
In their last eight regular season contests, the Pirates played strong AA programs Nicholas County (a 9-1 loss) and Wyoming East (10-1 loss), Class AAA’s Woodrow Wilson (a 9-6 loss and 10-6 win) and Huntington (a 9-0 loss). They also faced Class A power Buffalo (9-1 and 11-1 losses) and regional foe Richwood (a 12-4 victory).
First-year head coach Ashley Poland said the games were good for her team, which will play at Montcalm at 5 p.m. Thursday in a Region 3 semifinal.
“I think they helped. Through the season we didn’t see a lot of good pitching in a row,” Poland said. “But at the end, we saw good pitching every game, and it really helped us with our hitting.”
No doubt. Fayetteville (13-15) outscored Midland Trail and Richwood by a combined 25-7 score in the Region 3, Section 2 tournament.
“Despite the losses to the bigger teams, we gained confidence,” Poland said. “The hitting has really come around in the last few games.”
While no Pirate is hitting better than .333 on the season, Kelsey Norris and Allyson Kesler each had two hits in a 6-2 sectional win over Midland Trail, and Kaitlyn Sisler had two hits and two RBIs in a 9-4 semifinal decision over Richwood.
The hitting continued in the sectional final, as Ashley Gilkerson tripled, singled and drove in five runs, Chelby Dorsey doubled and singled and Maddie Pritt had a two-run base hit.
Not only did the batting improve, but Sisler bore down from the mound. She spun a one-hitter against Trail, then stopped Richwood on first four, and then one hit.
In a season of inconsistency for the Pirates, Sisler has stood out.
“Kaitlyn is just a sophomore, but she’s pitched her heart out,” Poland said. “She’s really strong, and she’s a very smart pitcher to be so young. She throws the ball hard, but has a good changeup, which makes her effective.”
Sisler is second on the team in batting with a .320 average. Another sophomore, third baseman-catcher Ashley Gilkerson, leads is hitting at a .333 clip. Both have one home run.
The remainder of the lineup includes freshman catcher Alexa Roles (.304), junior first baseman Allison Kesler (.116), senior second baseman Cassidy Bayes (.137), freshman shortstop Morgan Funk (.300), junior left fielder Norris (.291), sophomore center fielder Pritt (.282) and junior right fielder Dorsey (.238). Sophomore infielder Kayla Patrick (.222) is the top sub.
Fayetteville has had its ups and down on defense.
“We’ve had more errors than I would have liked, but we seem to pull out games despite the errors,” Poland said. “Against Richwood, they had the bases loaded with no outs and we played out of it.”
The Pirates have beaten Montcalm twice this season, 11-0 at home and 18-4 in Mercer County.
“In my experience, it’s not easy to beat somebody three times,” Poland said. “But we’re prepared. We’re not going to take them lightly.”
Man and Sherman will play in the other semifinal Thursday. The winner of that game will host the Fayetteville-Montcalm winner on May 16.
— E-mail: dstillwell