Panthers fend off Jeeps


Clay clips SW 7-4 in softball

By Paul Boggs - [email protected]



South Webster senior Rylee McGraw makes contact with a pitch as Clay catcher Shea Edgington looks on during Thursday’s non-league softball game.

South Webster senior Rylee McGraw makes contact with a pitch as Clay catcher Shea Edgington looks on during Thursday’s non-league softball game.


Ed Litteral | Daily Times

Clay senior Jacy Gearhart (8) had a team-high three hits including a fifth-inning double during the Panthers’ 7-4 non-league softball victory over South Webster on Thursday.


Ed Litteral | Daily Times

Clay senior Kyleigh Oliver (13) slides into home plate for a first-inning run as South Webster pitcher Skylar Zimmerman (22) defends during Thursday’s non-league softball game at South Webster.


Ed Litteral | Daily Times

SOUTH WEBSTER — Sometimes, especially for the Clay Panthers on Thursday, it is indeed all about how you start.

Although, the Panthers put together — time and again at non-league South Webster in a makeup matchup — defensive finishes.

The end result is that despite the cool afternoon, the Panther softballers are red-hot out of the April gate.

That’s because Clay kept its early undefeated 2022 record intact against the Jeeps, thanks to a five-run initial at-bat —as the Panthers pushed out to a 7-1 advantage before fending off South Webster 7-4 on a wind-driven day in Jeep Country.

That’s correct Clay fans — your Panthers are perfect through five games, as fellow Division IV rival South Webster was arguably their toughest test to date.

That’s despite the Jeeps’ now 1-5 start, and before Clay plays defending Southern Ohio Conference Division I and Division IV district champion Notre Dame.

Perhaps the 5-0 opening is even a surprise to Clay coach Jason Gearhart, given the Panthers’ personnel and inexperience level.

His daughter, senior second baseman Jacy Gearhart, had a team-high three hits on the day —which included a fourth-inning RBI-single for the 7-1 cushion, closely followed by a fifth-inning double.

“That’s an excellent South Webster team that plays a tougher schedule than us. We’re a young and very inexperienced team, but we’ve been practicing hard. We actually have some players who haven’t played in two or three years for four years. I know my daughter (Jacy Gearhart) hadn’t played since eighth grade, our center-fielder Kyleigh Oliver hasn’t played since seventh grade, and our third baseman (Amadea Everman) and shortstop (Sarah Cassidy) had never played those positions before,” said Coach Gearhart. “They are all inexperienced, but this is the hardest-practicing team I’ve ever had. We’re grinders. And that was a grinding win right there. I’m not going to lie to you, I was nervous coming into this. This South Webster team is for real and is definitely a top-four team in our district (in Division IV).”

For the Jeeps, which play well upwards in their schedule as a member of the SOC II, three of their five losses are by three runs or less — to three clubs with an impressive combined tally of 17-1.

Those would be undefeated West (7-0) 4-2 and Clay (5-0) 7-4 —sandwiched around an epic 6-5 nine-inning loss against defending Division III regional champion Wheelersburg.

“It’s something we’re telling the girls all the time. You have to play all seven innings, start the game strong and finish the entire game. You can’t just play part of it. It has to be all the way through,” said SWHS coach Andy Messer. “Those are three games you mentioned that we could have won, and we should have won, but we haven’t. That’s really the only way I know how to put it.”

The difference on Thursday was simple but two-fold —for the Panthers put the Jeeps into a 5-0 deficit a mere eight batters in.

Clay then scored twice more on three hits in the fourth for a 7-1 lead, as South Webster scored singular earned runs in innings three, five, six and finally seven.

However, the Jeeps —despite outhitting the Panthers for a 14-9 count —left 14 runners stranded, including exactly a dozen in scoring position.

In fact, in the seventh, after Makayla Raynard’s one-out double down the third-base line —and back-to-back singles by Rylee McGraw and Riley Raynard including McGraw’s which crossed Makayla Raynard —the Jeeps had the bases loaded, given Panther pitcher Preslee Lutz’s intentional walk to Bri Claxon.

That meant clearing the bases would have forged a 7-7 tie, with a grand-slam home run resulting in a South Webster walkoff win.

But Lutz, first facing freshman Lauren Kaltenbach, induced her to hit into a 5-2 fielder’s choice for the second out.

Finally, with the sacks still full, Lutz got pitching counterpart Skylar Zimmerman to pop out to third base to end the game.

“We didn’t cash in when we needed to. We got hits, but not timely hits,” said Messer. “We left runners stranded and that will hurt you every time. Especially when we dug ourselves in a hole early. Take away five first-inning runs and we win this 4-2. Skylar (Zimmerman) came in and pitched outstanding.”

That Zimmerman did, going the final six and two-thirds frames — and only allowing the two earned third-inning runs.

She didn’t hit nor walk a batter, scattered six hits, struck out seven, and faced the Panthers precisely three times through.

But Zimmerman came in — because the Panthers chased the senior McGraw out.

Clay batted around in the opening inning, as McGraw pitched to seven Panthers before Messer made the circle change.

The first five reached base —with Shea Edgington and Lutz getting hit by pitches, sandwiched around a Gearhart single and a Jordyn Mathias RBI-double which brought in Edgington.

Kyleigh Oliver ended the first five on-base beginning with a single to plate Gearhart, as Morgan McCoy drew a one-out walk with the bases loaded to bring in Mathias.

Zimmerman replaced McGraw, but the final two tallies were charged to the latter —as Mathias scored on a Kate Fife RBI-fielder’s choice, and Oliver slid safely in on a wild pitch.

Coach Gearhart hailed his Panthers’ opening at-bat.

“Getting that early momentum is really important, We’ve been really slow starters this year. We’ve been behind against New Boston and Green, and we’ve pretty much had to come from behind in every game,” said the coach. “To do what we did in the first inning today and knock their pitcher out like that, it was big for us.”

For Messer, he didn’t know why McGraw was off her usual solid pitching game.

“I don’t actually know. For Rylee to do what she has previously done for us, that’s definitely different tonight. She just didn’t have her best stuff by hitting a couple batters with a walk, but everybody goes through that. It just wasn’t her night in the circle,” he said. “You just never know what pitcher you’re going to have. It’s all about what night it is for them. You just have to hope and pray it’s their night.”

Which for the Panthers it was —and it helped with a pair of fourth-inning insurance markers.

Fife singled to shallow left-center behind the shortstop Claxon to lead off, followed by Sarah Cassidy collecting an infield single on a bunt.

Edgington made it 6-1 with a 4-3 RBI-groundout to plate Fife, before Gearhart hammered a single to cross Cassidy.

All 11 runs in the contest were indeed earned —as Oliver went 2-for-4, and Luz led off the seventh with a single.

In the circle, Lutz faced 39 Jeeps —giving up two walks before the seventh-inning intentional to the all-around exceller Claxon.

Lutz struck out eight, as Makayla Raynard and Bella Claxon cranked out 3-for-4 performances —including a pair of doubles by Raynard.

Zimmerman scored twice, including on Bella Claxon’s RBI-single in the fifth.

Bri Claxon and Kaltenbach both had two hits, and alas would have been the six and seventh South Webster markers had they scored.

But, sometimes, especially for the Panthers on Thursday —it was indeed all about how they started.

And, so far, it’s a fast 5-0 opening for Clay.

“I love this team. If you would have told me we were going to start 5-0 this year, with all the starters we graduated, I would have never ever thought that. But these girls are really trying hard. They practice, they cheer loud, they never sit down and they all get along,” said Coach Gearhart. “South Webster is a very good team, is going to be a force in Division IV, but we proved today we can probably play with anybody.”

* * *

Clay 500 200 0 — 7 9 3

South Webster 001 011 1 — 4 14 2

CHS: Preslee Lutz 7IP, 4R, 4ER, 14H, 0HB, 2BB, 1IBB, 8K, 39BF

SWHS: Rylee McGraw 1/3IP, 5R, 5ER, 3H, 2HB, 1BB, 1K, 7BF; Skylar Zimmerman 6 2/3 IP, 2R, 2ER, 6H, 0HB, 0BB, 7K, 27BF

W —Preslee Lutz; L — Rylee McGraw

South Webster senior Rylee McGraw makes contact with a pitch as Clay catcher Shea Edgington looks on during Thursday’s non-league softball game.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/04/web1_Clay-SW-softball-3-2.jpgSouth Webster senior Rylee McGraw makes contact with a pitch as Clay catcher Shea Edgington looks on during Thursday’s non-league softball game. Ed Litteral | Daily Times

Clay senior Jacy Gearhart (8) had a team-high three hits including a fifth-inning double during the Panthers’ 7-4 non-league softball victory over South Webster on Thursday.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/04/web1_Clay-SW-softball-4-2.jpgClay senior Jacy Gearhart (8) had a team-high three hits including a fifth-inning double during the Panthers’ 7-4 non-league softball victory over South Webster on Thursday. Ed Litteral | Daily Times

Clay senior Kyleigh Oliver (13) slides into home plate for a first-inning run as South Webster pitcher Skylar Zimmerman (22) defends during Thursday’s non-league softball game at South Webster.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/04/web1_Clay-SW-Softball-1-1-2.jpgClay senior Kyleigh Oliver (13) slides into home plate for a first-inning run as South Webster pitcher Skylar Zimmerman (22) defends during Thursday’s non-league softball game at South Webster. Ed Litteral | Daily Times
Clay clips SW 7-4 in softball

By Paul Boggs

[email protected]

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved