RIO GRANDE — Bri Claxon, the South Webster standout senior student-athlete who has played a key role in several serious Jeep tournament triumphs, had arguably the biggest hit of her decorated softball career.
Who knew, though, before Saturday’s steamsoaked Division IV district championship bout what all Claxon’s clubbing would entail.
That’s because — as Claxon conked a solo home run to left-centerfield off Waterford Wildcat relief pitcher Laykyn Brooker in the fifth inning — it went for the Jeeps’ count ‘em 18th run, their count ‘em 19th hit, and yes folks, it went for Claxon’s second career cycle.
“I was very excited to hit that home run,” she exclaimed, as she rounded second base with her hands high in the air.
High hands for Claxon, and high offensive numbers for the Jeeps, all were part of South Webster’s first district title in the sport of softball since 2002 —as South Webster walloped Waterford 18-2 at the University of Rio Grande.
Yes that’s correct, as the heat —and South Webster’s bats —indeed were on Saturday afternoon.
The seventh-seeded Jeeps scored three runs on one hit off Waterford’s Kari Carney in the opening inning —despite sending eight batters to the plate.
The second and third frames, though, featured first 11 Jeeps at the dish at the second —and a dozen more in the third.
In each instance, South Webster went off for seven runs on seven hits in each stanza, started initially in the second by a Wildcat error in which Makayla Raynard reached.
Simply put, although a late May — and Southeastern Ohio storm — swept across the Rio Grande region following the game, the Jeeps had already opened the floodgates.
With a commanding 17-2 advantage and entering the fifth, Claxon closed —or rather emphatically slammed —the door with her home run.
She drew a leadoff walk on the game’s initial at-bat, then tripled in the second, doubled and singled in the third —before finally, and even with some South Webster fans anticipating and chatting about it —finished off her cycle with her homer.
Her only other cycle before this year, as her sophomore season was wiped unfortunately because of the coronavirus threat, was last season as a junior.
With the overly-impressive victory, the Jeeps raised their record to now 18-9 and —more importantly —won their first district championship since 2002.
That’s 20 total seasons, as Claxon was just glad to be part of school history —aside from her cycle and four runs scored on Saturday.
“We were just excited to come out and play today. We fell a little short last year when we played Notre Dame. We wanted some revenge against Waterford too, they played us in basketball (2021 Division IV district semifinals), so that was even more fire for us. We came out of the gate hitting and never looked back. They are a good team, and we thought it would be pretty close, but we just went up there and got hit after hit and it wasn’t like they were making errors. Our bats just came alive,” she said. “Winning a district title is not something a lot of teams can say that they did, especially for us in softball. We’ve been working our way each year, and we’re finally able to do that this year. It just feels really good.”
With Waterford the capable seventh seed, and given the Jeeps’ narrow yet hard-fought 6-4 district semifinal victory over Belpre, most observers believed this would be a close encounter.
But the Jeeps just kept crossing the plate, and cranking out hits, to the tune of 18 runs and 19 baseknocks.
As it turned out, the contest —no closer than a 3-1 South Webster lead after the opening inning —was called following the fifth inning with the 10-run mercy rule.
“Absolutely not, did we think this would ever happen,” said SWHS coach Andy Messer, of the lopsided outcome. “On the bus ride over here, we told the girls to be ready for a dogfight. There was no thinking of that at all. I told them I would love to win in five (innings), but not to expect that. Let’s go and try and win this in seven if we can. What happened out there today happened. Balls were jumping off the bats, and we found holes and gaps, and that was it.”
Messer also explained, as he has all season, that Claxon is the true tablesetter.
“Bri sets the tone for the rest of the lineup,” said the coach. “She is fast and one heckuva athlete. When she gets on base, she is dangerous. We almost consider it automatic for her to score with the hitters she has behind her.”
In addition, and certainly not overlooked, was South Webster senior pitcher Rylee McGraw — who more than did her part in limiting the Wildcats to two earned runs on four hits.
She only struck out two, but faced the minimum three Wildcats in innings two, three and finally five —including retiring the Waterford side in stanzas three and five.
McGraw faced the Wildcats two times through, and twice walked Mackenzie Suprano in the second and fourth —although Suprano was erased as part of a Claxon-assisted double play, and a 9-2-5-1 rundown between third and home.
Waterford scored once in the first and fourth —when Cara Taylor and Josie Elliott both singled respectively, and were driven in on singles by Carney and Leah Ryan.
“Rylee started the year off with a broken finger, and it was two weeks into the season before she really began finding herself,” said Messer. “Ever since then, she has been hitting her stride. These last two tournament games, she has really thrown well.”
Speaking of hitting stride, the Jeeps are doing just that — rolling right into the Region 15 regional tournament for the first time in two decades.
“We felt we should have, could have, would have had one last year, but unfortunately the seeding didn’t help us. But I couldn’t be more proud of this group of girls. They’ll put that number (22) on that banner on the wall in the gym,” said Messer. “These girls have really worked hard for this.”
However, is there any slowing these Jeeps down?
South Webster will face highly-touted and regional regular Strasburg-Franklin for the Region 15 semifinals on Wednesday —with first pitch set for 5 p.m. at Pickerington Central High School.
“I don’t know much about them right now, but they are good because they (Tigers) are there (regional tournament) almost every year,” said Messer. “Hopefully we’ll come ready and give them a good game and hope for the best.”
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