LUCASVILLE — The Valley High School softball program plays the game of switch-a-roo —as far as competing in either Division III or Division IV for its Ohio High School Athletic Association postseason tournament.
But the goal, and in this season for Division IV, is the same —always emerge as at least sectional champions.
In Wednesday’s sectional championship, against the like mascot Indians, sixth-seeded Valley had no problems pushing past Peebles —blanking the 11th-seeded Adams Countians 10-0 in a Division IV affair on The Reservation.
Valley cranked out 15 hits — and scored five runs on six hits in the opening inning, twice more in the third on three baseknocks, and finally three runs on five more hits in the fifth frame for the 10-run mercy rule.
It only took an hour and 20 minutes for Valley to make short work of 6-17 Peebles, as these Indians improved to 11-10 —and captured their first sectional championship in two years, as 2021 marked the final season for longtime Valley coach Monte Spriggs.
Now, second-year mentor Kayla Taulbee takes Valley to the Division IV district tournament —as the Indians’ brutal Southern Ohio Conference Division II schedule has prepared them for the postseason.
Wheelersburg, West, South Webster and Northwest are four of the top five seeds in the Division III district bracket —all winning sectional titles on Thursday afternoon.
Valley played all four teams tough at times, including a win over Northwest — and a narrow 2-1 loss against West only 10 days ago.
Taulbee talked about the importance of her young Tribe winning a sectional championship.
Valley only sports two seniors —twin sisters Madison Montgomery and Cassidy Montgomery.
“It’s very important. We lost the sectional championship game last year, and all year we’ve just been saying we want to be better than we were last year. We have more wins already, we’re advancing at least one step further. That’s our goal,” said Taulbee. “Our conference (SOC II) is very, very tough with no easy game anywhere. We competed with Wheelersburg and West way better this year than we did last year, and we want to continue to compete better this year and keep advancing.”
Valley did just that, as the Indians will face third-seeded Symmes Valley on Wednesday —in the second semifinal that day of the Division IV Southeast District tournament at the University of Rio Grande.
Valley and Symmes Valley, which vanquished Paint Valley 15-5 in another sectional final for Wednesday, follows the 4 p.m. semifinal —between second-seeded Manchester and 10th-seeded Miller.
More on that Symmes Valley matchup momentarily.
Valley junior pitcher Emilie Johnson, with the Indians’ offense offering plenty of run support, faced Peebles’ lineup twice through —and struck out seven while walking just two.
She retired the Indians 1-2-3 in the first and fourth frames, and saw the minimum three in the second, as Valley’s other “Emilie” — freshman second baseman Emilie Barr — turned a double play after a Peebles runner reached on a dropped third strike and throwing error.
In fact, the only hit Johnson allowed was an infield single by Aleah Purcell —all because she didn’t make a play on a ball hit back to her, which followed her being called for an illegal pitch on the very same swing.
Two outs and two batters later, she walked her first batter, but induced a groundout to first baseman Braxtyn Holbrook to end the inning.
In fact, Johnson recorded five consecutive outs before Purcell drew a fifth-inning walk, but Purcell was hit by the softball while running on the next at-bat —resulting in the automatic out.
From there, Valley finished the outing off —with three runs on five hits for the 10-run mercy rule.
So the right-handed Johnson was near no-hitter territory, and aside from the pair of illegal pitches, had Peebles pretty much handcuffed.
“She (Johnson) didn’t let those two calls affect her, and everyone that faces her knows she commands in the circle,” said Taulbee. “That’s what we love about her.”
Taulbee had to love the Indians’ offensive onslaught as well —off Peebles pitcher Payton Davis.
It started with leadoff singles by freshman Ryleigh Weeks and Johnson, as Karsyn Davis doubled them in with one out for the 2-0 first-inning advantage.
Holbrook then doubled, as Barr singled in both Davis and Holbrook with two outs to make it 4-0.
Camry Carpenter concluded the inning with a two-out double, crossing Barr.
In the third, Davis drilled a solo home run to left field to lead off, Holbrook singled, and Carpenter made it 2-for-2 for her — with a two-out single that plated Holbrook.
Johnson singled in the fourth, but Valley hit into a pair of fielder’s choices to force a bottom of the fifth.
This time, Holbrook tripled to center to lead off, and made it 8-0 when she scored on a wild pitch.
The final four Valley batters all had hits —Barr on a single, Carpenter on another single, Madison Montgomery with a double that scored Barr, and finally Weeks with an infield hit on a bunt that crossed Carpenter for the 10th run.
The key, Taulbee explained, was the fast start.
“Just from the get-go, we had to put our foot on the gas. When we get ahead in games, especially with Emilie out there in the circle, we are so much more confident. They did exactly what I asked of them. Came out and got a big lead early, and then just kept chipping away. We hit the ball well, Karsyn with that big home run in the third,” said the coach. “We talk about doing our jobs as hitters. If you do your job, somebody else is going to bring them in.”
And, job one on Wednesday was winning a Division IV sectional championship —and advancing.
Now, the Indians get the Vikings of Symmes Valley —the SOC I runner-up to top-seeded Notre Dame.
“Symmes Valley is a tough team,” said Taulbee. “It will be a challenging game for us, but I do see we have potential to advance on.”
* * *
Peebles 000 00 —0 1 0
Valley 502 03 —10 15 1
PHS: Payton Davis 5IP, 10R, 10ER, 0HB, 0BB, 15H, 2WP, 4K, 28BF
VHS: Emilie Johnson 5IP, 0R, 0ER, 0HB, 2BB, 1H, 0WP, 7K, 18BF
W —Emilie Johnson; L —Payton Davis
HR —Karsyn Davis, Valley, 3rd inning, solo