By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It was hot in the Mid-Ohio Valley for the start of the state prep softball tournament on Wednesday. As a pitcher, Mikayla Wickline was hotter.
The James Monroe senior struck out 16 of the 22 Petersburg batters she faced, and allowed two hits, leading the Lady Mavericks to a 2-1 win over the Vikings at Jackson Park in the suburbs of Parkersburg.
Rather than take credit for a magnificent game, she said, "I think we all brought our best game."
She noted, "All the credit really goes to my dad, calling pitches, because he was the one that was the one helping me with the batters. And my catcher for setting me up where she needed me to."
Her head coach and cousin, Greg Wickline, "Mikayla pitched phenomenal today ... against a really good Petersburg team."
The victory in the double-elimination tournament put the Lady Mavs (22-5) in a winner's bracket game, facing defending state champion Wayne High School. That game was in progress late Wednesday night.
Regardless of the outcome, both teams will play today, the final day of the tournament, weather permitting. After an elimination game in the loser's bracket, the first pitch of the championship round is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
Greg Wickline said after Wednesday's first game, "We didn't know what to expect when we got up here, but they responded really well -- hit the ball pretty decent."
"The first game was key, for sure. If you win the first game, (and) get lucky in the second game, you're in the driver's seat. Hopefully, the girls will just continue to play hard."
On a muggy afternoon with temperatures in the 80s at Jackson Park, the Lady Mavs did their damage offensively in the third inning, after leaving the bases loaded in the second.
Freahman Megan Bailey led off with a single to center field, and Laine Shiflet followed with the Lady Mavs' only extra-base hit, a double up the middle. Petersburg left fielder Samantha Rohrbaugh made a fantastic diving catch of a fly ball for the second out, and Wickline came up to the plate.
She hit an infield ground ball but Petersburg's Brooke Hott threw wildly to first and both Bailey and Shiflet made it home for unearned runs -- which would prove to be enough.
After Petersburg's Hott got a bunt single in the second, James Monroe retired 11 straight batters, nine of them via swinging strikeouts.
Shiflet turned in James Monroe's defensive web gem to record the first out on Petersburg in the fourth. On a full count, Cheyenne Earle popped the ball up, just foul of the third base line. Shiflet dove for it, rotating her glove palm up, and made a rolling catch in front of the Lady Mavs' dugout.
"It was a little hard to get there," Shiflet said. "You've just got to stay on your toes."
Mikayla Wickline had some early adversity to overcome. Facing her first batter, pitcher Marley Thompson, Wickline was called for two illegal pitches by the first-base umpire, who saw her foot fall off the pitching rubber into a hole just before she released the ball.
Greg Wickline said, "It's not like we're doing anything to gain an advantage. Sometimes, when the ground's kind of slanted, and there's a hole, it does, as an umpire, definitely looks like she's getting it up. ... When he (the umpire) called them, she did it. And Mikayla was able to fix it. ... She's played a lot of ball."
Mikayla Wickline said, "I've struggled with it my whole pitching career. I've gotten to where it normally doesn't bother me too much. So I just try not to focus on it, and just concentrate on pitching my game -- and my foot will do what it's supposed to do."
"I just tried to push with my toes, instead of the ball of my foot."
Her other bump in the road came in the sixth inning. Her streak of five straight strikeouts ended when No. 9 batter Halie Swick drew a base on balls on a full count. The next batter, Thompson, was retired when catcher Kelsie Gillespie tracked down a foul pop fly. But Kaitlyn Keplinger's double advanced Swick to third base, and Swick produced a 2-1 score on an RBI groundout by Earle.
James Monroe looked for some insurance runs in the top of the seventh, but again left the bases loaded. It was up to Mikayla Wickline to close it out -- and to a candy snack to provide her with an assist.
She said that as she pitched in the bottom of the sixth inning, "I could feel my blood sugar starting to drop, so I was a little tired. I went in, got a little sugar in me, went back out and felt great."
Asked what provided the boost, she said with a smile, "Reese's Cups. I always have my Reese's Cups."
She then struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh on 13 pitches.
Petersburg (27-7) head coach Dwayne "Bubba" Hedrick, asked to sum up the game, said, "How about 16 strikeouts? We didn't put any pressure on them. ... Credit her (Mikayla Wickline). Whatever she tried, worked. We didn't adjust at the plate like we need to. But it was still a game 'til the end."
Thompson allowed eight hits in her seven innings of pitching, and the Vikings committed four errors, all in the first three innings.
For the Lady Mavericks, Samantha Ferguson was 2 for 4. Bailee Jackson and Haileah Pickles managed bunt singles. Bailey, Hillary Hersman, Shiflet and Mikayla Wickline got the other hits. Wickline reached base three times.
It was a satisfying start for the numerous James Monroe fans who made the trip to the Ohio Valley from the other corner of the state to watch the softball team compete in the state tournament for the first time since 1997.
Greg Wickline said, "The community has supported us all year long. We've got a bunch of people down here from Monroe County."
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org
At Jackson Park
James Monroe.................002 000 0 -- 2 8 0
Petersburg.......................000 001 0 -- 1 2 4
Mikayla Wickline and Kelsie Gillespie. Marley Thompson and Cheyenne Earle. WP - Wickline. LP - Thompson.