Lady Hornets ready for first-ever regional

Published 2:27 am Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Coal Grove Lady Hornets won the Division 3 district championship and earned the program’s first regional tournament berth. Team members are: front row from left to right, head coach Aaron Rice, Morgyn Dale, Kendall Taylor, Kassidy Travis, Abbie Deeds, Shay Collins and assistant coach Duane Deeds; second row from left to right, Evelyn Mader, Brianna Malone, Izzy Kitts, Rylee Black, Kasey Vanderhoof, Klara Klaiber, Mia Haynes, Braelie Hitchcock, Tayler Endlich and Jenna Anson. Not pictured was Addison Pauley. (Photo Submitted)

By Jim Walker

COAL GROVE — The Coal Grove Lady Hornets softball season was similar to the weather. It started dark and gloomy but gave way to bright sunshine.

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After losing 4 of their first 6 games and all 7 losses in their first 12 games, the Lady Hornets felt like a constant rain was falling on them.

But Coal Grove has won 12 straight games including wins in the sectional and district finals as they advanced to the regional tournament for the first time in school history.

“They’re pretty excited. Everybody was fired up as they should be, but they aren’t satisfied,” said Lady Hornets’ coach Aaron Rice.

Winning their first district championship puts the Lady Hornets in the Division 3 regional tournament for the first time in school history.

Coal Grove (17-7) will play South Webster (17-3) at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at Ohio University in Athens. The first game pits Wheelersburg (21-2) against Meadowbrook (21-10) at 2 p.m. Wednesday’s winners meet at 5 p.m. on Friday with the winner going to the state tournament at Firestone Stadium in Akron on Thursday, May 30.

The Lady Hornets began the season facing teams like Meigs, Northwest, Russell, and Lawrence County, Ky., who have had strong seasons. Rice said the strong schedule has helped his young team to improve and mature.

“Early on, the teams we started our schedule with some teams who all finished the season with really good records. Lawrence County is still going,” said Rice.

“We played a couple of games where we looked like we never had a softball glove on our hands. After the loss to Rock Hill, we started swinging the bats a whole lot better. Things just started getting better gradually. We’re starting four freshmen and three sophomores. Abbie (Deeds) is throwing it well and we just started playing well.”

Junior catcher Rylee Black is a 3-year starter and she said each year things begin the same way before the Lady Hornets take off.

“Every year I’ve played, at the beginning I feel like it was rough, but more into the season I felt we came together as a team, we did more things as a team and we just played as a team,” said Black.

“Our bats at the beginning of the year are never really that great, but at the end of the year I feel like we started coming together more and like playing together more.”

Black reflected on what playing in the regional tournament means.

“It’s crazy. Hard to believe. I knew we could do it and I feel like we can keep going further. We just have to keep playing like we have been and keep having faith,” said Black.

Kassidy Travis is the lone senior on the team and a lot of leadership has fallen on her shoulders.

“It’s hard to be the only senior, but I love my team and it’s fun to play with them and I like leading them through this. We’ve done really well this season and I’m really proud of us,” said Travis.

Coal Grove has had good teams during Travis’ career but this season has been more special since it is her senior year.

“It feels really good to go out with a bang. With this team being my senior season and we’re making it this far. We won the district for the first time in school history so I’m really proud of us. I’m glad I got to be a part of it this year,” said Travis.

The pitching ace of the team is junior Abbie Deeds who has a pair of no-hitters, a couple of one-hitters and two-hitters among her wins. She threw a no-hitter against Belpre in the district semifinal 7-0 win.

With pitching being the key facet of any team, Deeds knows a lot of the focus is on her and she admits there is an added pressure.

“I feel like in the playoff games there’s been some more pressure, but I think I’ve handled it pretty well I think. I like being in control of situations and I like being the hype person of the team and getting everyone going,” said Deeds.

But winning breeds winning and with the Lady Hornets on the current 12-game winning streak, Deeds said it has fueled the team’s confidence.

“I’m excited. I think we can win. I think we can win any game we play and I think it’s going to be a good game. I’ll have to pitch my best, but I always try to,” said Deeds.

Deeds has pitched most of the Coal Grove games and innings and has been very impressive the second half of the season. She has 245 strikeouts on the year.

“There were a lot of games where Abbie just caught fire and was throwing extremely well,” said Rice. “When she does that, she takes care of a few things for us and our kids are fired up.”

Although the Lady Hornets are very young, Rice said the team has grown up quickly.

“When you’re in a tight ballgame you have to learn how to win those, or you have to have a comeback win and you start believing you’re never out of a game. These are all the kinds of things we needed to go through and did,” said Rice.

“We had some tough games in the league. We weren’t supposed to be that good and our season is over and we’re sitting at the top of the league. Nobody expected that.”

The batting lineup usually has Deeds leading off followed by Shay Collins at second base, Izzy Kitts at third base, Black catching, Mia Haynes at first base, Kasey Vanderhoof the designated hitter, Braelie Hitchcock in centerfield, Kendall Taylor if right field, Travis at shortstop and Jenna Anson in left field.

Rice pointed to the development of Haynes, Hitchcock and Vanderhoof as vital to the team’s success that included a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title.

“At the beginning of the year I felt the top part of the order was going to be okay, but we weren’t sure how the middle part of the order was going to shake out for us and fortunately it has,” said Rice.

Looks like Mother Nature is now shining a lot of sunshine on the Lady Hornets.