RUBYVILLE – The Clay Lady Panthers are once again sectional champions. Clay won another softball sectional championship Thursday evening after they defeated the Whiteoak Lady Wildcats 9-1 at the Clay High School softball field.
“We started off a little slow, but once we started going, it all started coming back to us,” Jason Gearheart, Clay softball coach said.
Thursday’s game against the Lady Wildcats was the first time the Lady Panthers had taken the diamond since Saturday afternoon. According to Gearheart, he could tell it had been nearly a week since his team had played a game.
Not being on the field was not an excuse for the slow start for Clay though, as Gearheart knew Whiteoak was a very talented team and was a real threat to the continuation of the Clay season.
“It was a little frustrating at first,” Gearheart said. “We were patient and we were getting some hits, but we just couldn’t put them all together.”
After a leadoff single followed by a Whiteoak fielding error, Clay threatened in the first as Jensen Warnock stood on second base, while her teammate, Cassidy Wells was on first with no outs in the inning.
Tressa Carter came up and hit a line drive straight back to the Whiteoak pitcher for an out. The Lady Wildcats pitcher then turned and threw the ball to second base to complete a double play as the Lady Wildcats were able to tag Warnock before she could scramble back to second.
Gearheart’s frustrations would soon cease to be though. Clay showed they could play some small-ball in the second inning.
Bre Donahoe started the inning with a double and would then advance to third after a Rachel Cooper sacrifice fly to right field. Two batters later, Julia Swain knocked in her teammate after rifling a pitch for a double.
After two innings, the Lady Panthers had taken a 1-0 lead over the Lady Wildcats.
Whiteoak tied the game in the top of the third after scoring a run. After three innings, the game was tied 1-1.
Clay came up big in the fourth and sixth innings, as the Lady Panthers scored in each of the innings adding pressure to the Lady Wildcats.
The Lady Panthers scored six runs in the fourth inning, followed by another pair of runs in the sixth.
The once tied game had suddenly blown up to a 9-1 lead for the Lady Panthers as the game went into the seventh inning.
Clay only needed three outs to put away the Lady Wildcats and capture a sectional championship. Swain struck out the leadoff batter before giving up a single. The base hit wouldn’t matter though as they next two batters flew out to end the game, giving Clay a 9-1 win and a trip to the district semifinals.
“All in all, it’s another sectional championship,” Gearheart said.
While he had some frustrations with the slow start, Gearheart did acknowledge how glad he was about winning another sectional championship as well as joked about being reminded of Clay’s history in softball sectional title games.
“My AD (Athletic Director) always puts pressure on me because Clay has never lost a sectional championship. I always like it when he does that to me,” Gearheart said with a smile.
Gearheart used three pitchers Thursday against Whiteoak, with Hannah Oliver getting the start.
Oliver went four innings for Clay. She allowed one run, unearned, off two hits. Oliver walked three batters and sent six walking back to the dugout scratching their heads via strikeouts.
Oliver was pulled after the fourth inning.
“She looked good, but not as on top of the game as she usually is,” Gearheart said. “So I wanted to make a move. Jensen held them off for an inning and then I brought in Julia. They’re all about the same. They’re equal caliber pitchers, but I could tell something was off.”
Gearheart said his starter, Oliver, pitched a good game and could have gone the distance if he needed her to do so.
Warnock came in to start the fifth going one inning. She walked and struck out a pair of batters, while not allowing any hits or runs.
Swain came in for the sixth and seventh innings. She allowed one hit and a walk in her two innings of work. She also struck out three.
Five Lady Panthers finished the night with a pair of hits, while the team finished with a total of 12 hits against the Lady Wildcats.
Warnock, Wells, Carter, Cooper and Swain all had two hits on the night.
Five of the 12 hits came in the fourth inning.
The Clay Lady Panthers will face the Belpre Lady Golden Eagles in the district semifinal round Thursday, May 19, 2016 at Minford High School in Minford, Ohio. Clay enters the game as the second seed, while Belpre is seeded third.
As Clay heads to the district round with a relatively young team, Gearheart plans to have his girls play a game of wiffle-ball and then eat pizza.
“That’s what we’re going to do,” Gearheart said. “That’s how we’re going to calm them down. We’re going to go back to having fun and that’s about it. I don’t dare to think that I’m that smart to get into a 15 year old’s head. We’re going to play wiffle-ball and eat pizza.”
The district semifinal game between Clay and Belpre will have a 6:00 p.m. start time.
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.