CHILLICOTHE — It is said that seven is a lucky number.
On Thursday evening, that number certainly worked to the favor of the Minford Lady Falcons in a Division III, Chillicothe II District Semifinal as Minford plated seven runs in the second inning and, for the first time in seven trips, advanced to a Division III District Final with an impressive 13-3 mercy-rule victory over New Lexington on Thursday at Unioto High School.
For Preston Messer, it was evident that the veteran head coach took great pleasure in his unit’s performance.
“Our bats have been hot,” Messer said. “Hopefully, they can stay hot over the rest of the season. New Lexington is a pretty good team. We’ve been up here for seven years now and haven’t made it past the first game. We finally got the monkey off of our back. Now, we can focus on one game at a time.”
Ariel Kingery got the strong effort going with a resilient effort in the circle for the Lady Falcons. Kingery, who threw a complete game six-hitter, showed off the poise that the senior has become known for by sitting down the Lady Panthers in order in the first inning and then doing the same in the second inning after allowing a pair of singles to start the frame.
“Ariel’s been working hard,” Messer said. “She’s been hitting her spots. I’ve been telling everybody that hard work pays off. Tonight, it showed for her. That’s what she’s supposed to do as a senior — to step up when we need them to.”
Kingery also played an integral role in getting the massive second frame going with her leadoff single, and Zoe Doll’s RBI base knock back up the middle allowed Minford to plate the game’s first run.
The Lady Falcons, however, proved they were far from done.
After an error on Doll’s base hit allowed the junior to advance to second, a single by Madison Sifford put runners at the corners, and Hannah Tolle, along with Hannah Thacker, would cash in on the opportunities presented to them as Tolle’s sacrifice fly RBI to center field and Thacker’s RBI base knock put Minford up by a 3-0 count.
But the best was yet to come.
After a single by Emily Shoemaker and an error on the same play allowed Shoemaker and Thacker to advance to second and third, Brittani Wolfenbarker had a chance to drive in two runs with a base hit anywhere in the field of play.
Instead, Wolfenbarker one-upped that goal by drilling a three-run homer to dead center to double the lead in one swing. The next batter, Mary Pica, followed Wolfenbarker’s efforts up with a no-sloucher of her own — a solo bomb that sailed over the left field fence — to cap off the excellent inning as Minford took a 7-0 lead after two innings of play.
“All season long, it seems like when someone is struggling at the plate, we have two or three that step up and carry the load,” Messer said. “It’s just been next kid up.”
While New Lexington did trim the lead to 7-3 in the next half-inning as an error, a 4-3 groundout RBI, two consecutive singles by Baylee Harris and Emily Robinson, and a two-RBI single by Rainbow Ratliff, Minford wasn’t phased.
After a hit by pitch and a double to right field by Tolle, Thacker followed with her RBI single to left to score Sifford, and an error then allowed Tolle and Thacker to score. Wolfenbarker added her fourth RBI of the game with her single to right following the error to score Shoemaker, and even after a failed double steal, Kingery capped off the brillant inning with an RBI triple to drive in Mary Pica as Minford ballooned its lead to a 12-3 advantage after three complete. Tolle’s solo home run to left center field in the bottom of the fourth inning put the mercy rule into motion.
With the contest well in hand, it was smooth-sailing for the Lady Falcons. In fact, the only adversity that Minford faced all game long was in the top of the fifth, when a wild pitch by Kingery took a bad hop and drilled Kiersten Hale right in the left knee.
While Hale was taken out of the affair immediately following the play, Messer said that Hale’s knee was only bruised, not broken in any way, and praised the freshman catcher for her toughness in the field.
“Kirsten’s a tough kid,” Messer said. “She’s a heck of a catcher, especially for a freshman. I wouldn’t trade our catcher for anybody. She’ll be alright. She got a little bruise on her knee, but she’s tough. She’ll be right back.”
With the victory, Minford will play Williamsport Westfall in the Division III, Chillicothe II District Finals for the right to advance to Lancaster. While Messer expects the Lady Mustangs to present a challenge, the veteran head coach believes that the Lady Falcons will be in excellent shape as long as Minford continues to approach the plate with the same kind of hitting discipline that they showed on Thursday evening.
“We just have to keep hitting the ball like we are hitting it, and keep putting the ball in play,” Messer said. “That’s all we can ask for. Westfall’s a good team. They’re always well-coached.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7