Marie Shaffer knew her Nicholas County softball team was capable of great things.

It was just a matter of beating a pesky midseason slump.

“At the beginning, when the girls were hitting the ball, I thought we had a good chance of going to the state tournament,” Shaffer said. “We had a slump, but we started picking it up right when we needed to.”

The 18-6 Grizzlies found their bats, pummeling several opponents down the stretch, and their momentum carried them through a tough regional championship game with South Charleston last Thursday.

The 2-0 victory over the highly regarded Black Eagles put Nicholas into this week’s Class AAA state tournament in Vienna.

It will be the Grizzlies’ first trip upstate since 1992, and the first under Shaffer since she took over as coach in 1997.

“They’ve hit the ball well, and the last four games we’ve played excellent defense,” she said. “I hope they keep it for the next three or four games.”

Nicholas is a veteran club, featuring five senior starters and two juniors.

“They’re experienced, and a little on the confident side,” Shaffer said. “They’ve played ball since they were young, so they know what’s going on.”

Shortstop Kim Nutter is batting .487 with 24 RBIs, while all-state catcher Amanda Jenkins came out of a slump to compile a .358 average with four home runs.

Surprisingly, two freshmen are among the team leaders in hitting. Left fielder Erica Bradford checks in with a .494 average and 16 RBIs, while second baseman Katie Shaffer is at .479.

Other starters include junior right fielder Alex Fitzwater (.333), freshman designated player Felisha Fisher (.321), senior third baseman Shannon Shafer (.308), junior center fielder Ashley Neff (.279) and senior first baseman Tasha Hughes (.247, 12 rbi).

Going up against South Charleston ace Chelsea Cobb, the Grizzlies made the most of their four hits. They relied on bunts and aggressive baserunning to produce their runs.

Senior right-hander Morgan Elswick did the rest, firing a two-hitter and striking out eight while walking one.

She upped her record to 13-4 and her ERA to 1.96 with the win. She has 115 strikeouts.

“Morgan struggled with control,” Shaffer said. “But the more she’s pitched and worked, the more confident and better her pitching became.”

The Grizzlies play Lewis County (24-7) in a first-round game at noon Wednesday on Field One at Jackson Park.

Lewis defeated Musselman 7-6 in the Region 2 championship game.

The Minutemen offense is led by four seniors — first baseman Corey Tucker (.471, 2 HR), center fielder Kristen Golden (.440, 8 HR, 35 RBIs), pitcher Micah Hitt (.383, 29 RBIs) and catcher Brooke Foster (.308).

Hitt is 13-2 on the mound with a 2.32 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 75.1 innings.

Lewis defeated Nicholas 4-3 in nine innings in their one previous meeting.

Shaffer looks forward to the rematch.

“Our chances are good if we hit the ball like we’re capable,” she said.

n Also Wednesday, Shady Spring takes on Braxton County at 11:30 a.m. in a Class AA matchup on Field Three and Fayetteville squares off with Moorefield at 12:30 p.m. on Field Two.

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