By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Shady Spring has been a good fit for Mackenzie Milam.
The senior third baseman, a solid player for Independence the last two seasons, is now spectacular at the plate after transferring to the perennial state tournament threat Tigers.
Milam is batting .641, a nearly 250-point improvement over her junior year. She’s hit six home runs and has driven in 39 runs while scoring 31.
She ripped a triple and a double last Thursday to help lift Shady to a 4-0 victory over Greenbrier East in the Class AAA Region 3 semifinals.
“I have my games,” she said afterward. “My dad told me to go up there and be confident.”
Immediately, Milam became a leader by example for the Tigers, who travel to Jackson County at 6 p.m. today to face Ripley for the Region 3 championship.
Her defensive play has been superb, but it’s at the plate where she’s truly excelled.
Milam’s slugging percentage is a stunning 1.047. Her on-base percentage is .647. She has 41 hits, in 64 times at bat, with eight doubles. She’s drawn 11 walks while striking out just five times.
While she’s not a speed merchant, Milam knows her way around the bases. She barreled home with authority on a wild pitch for one of her runs against the Spartans.
“When I got on third, I was saying to myself, ‘I’m going to steal (home),’” Milam said. “‘I have to. We need to score.’”
Transferring to the Tigers certainly proved a good decision.
“Shady offers more classes than Independence, and I’d been playing with the girls here (in travel ball) for a couple of years,” she said.
She attributes her improved batting performance to a lot of hard work.
“I worked a lot in the winter. My dad takes me to the gym,” she said. “I’ve been lifting, too.”
Other Tigers have stepped up at the plate as well. Junior outfielder Leadoff batter and left fielder Sierra Richmond is batting .440 with 30 runs, 27 RBIs and three home runs, including a grand slam. She has a .640 slugging percentage and .488 on-base percentage.
Pitcher-outfielder Katie Snodgress, a two-time all-stater in Class AA before the Tigers moved up to AAA this season, his hitting .417 with 23 runs, 30 RBIs, eight doubles and two home runs. She has a .611 slugging and.440 on-base percentages.
Right fielder Alexis DeMoss bats .407 with 28 runs and 20 RBIs. Returning second-team all-stater Michelle Snodgress hits at a .433 clip with 20 RBIs and one home run.
The rest of the batting order includes outfielder Alexis Coalson (.345, 20 runs), first baseman Autumn Kauff (.314, 11 RBIs), shortstop Kelsey Robertson (.250) and catcher McKenzie Severt (.240, 12 RBIs).
Katie Snodgress is also the team’s top pitcher, with a 13-2 record. She has an ERA of 1.43, and 122 strikeouts and 18 walks through 93 innings.
Her twin sister Michelle is 6-0 on the mound with an 0.85 ERA. She’s fanned 53 batters and walked seven in 30 innings.
First-year coach Nikki Mackey-Hall played for Shady’s 2003 state champion team.
This year’s squad reminds Mackey-Hall of her own playing days.
“I’ve seen they have the heart to win. I did when I played, and that’s what they want,” she said. “They give their all the whole way.”
Ripley (23-10) is coached by Ken Swisher, who led the Vikings to the AAA championship in 2009.
Junior pitcher Chelsey Hager struck out 22 South Charleston players in the Vikings’ 4-1, 11-inning victory in the other Region 3 semifinal.
Other key players include junior right fielder Dusti Fisher (.343), sophomore catcher Ashley Mellinger (.323) and senior center fielder Ali Cunningham (.310).
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Two other regional finals today include Westside at James Monroe in Class AA and Fayetteville at Man in Class A.
Westside (21-6) will travel to Lindside for the 6 p.m. contest. Sophomore pitcher Cassidee Blankenship is 19-5 with a 2.14 ERA and 187 strikeouts against 37 walks. She’s also batting .382 with eight triples and five doubles.
Freshman first baseman Kasey Walls leads the team with a .430 batting average, while junior center fielder Alexis Walls is hitting .392, and junior catcher Leah Pack is hitting .382 with four home runs and 15 RBIs.
James Monroe (22-5) counters with another of the area’s top pitchers in Mikayla Wickline, and an outstanding hitter in third baseman Layne Shiflett.
Fayetteville (14-15) is bidding to become a Cinderella team at next week’s state tournament, but must defeat a Man club that knocked off Region 3 favorite Sherman last week.
The Pirates are led by junior pitcher Kaitlyn Sisler (.320), freshman catcher Alexa Roles (.304) and sophomores third baseman Ashley Gilkerson (.333).