Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 5, 2013

Lady Mavs gallop to fast start on diamonds

By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

LINDSIDE — Ever since there has been a James Monroe High School, the Lady Mavericks softball team has won the sectional championship. They’re off to a good start in their quest to continue the streak for a 19th straight spring.

The Lady Mavs won their first eight games prior to Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Class AAA Logan. James Monroe was scheduled to play Hurricane late Friday night in a tournament in Chapmanville, more than 100 miles from their home in Lindside.

That tournament is part of a design to play a challenging schedule and “beat the best,” according to head coach Greg Wickline. Ten of James Monroe’s 30 scheduled games are with Class AAA schools.

“This year, we just wanted to try to beef up our schedule a little bit and see where we stand — see if we could play some really tough competition,” he said by phone on Friday.

One of the games in the win streak stands out in particular, a 2-0 shutout of South Charleston last Saturday in the Kanawha Valley. Wickline credited both the pitching of his cousin, senior Mikayla Wickline, and the girls’ batting.

“Our pitcher, Mikayla, was really on that day,” the coach said. “Her rise ball was working well, and she was hitting her spots. And we were able to put some hits together.”

Mikayla Wickline struck out 22 Logan batters, her coach said. “That South Charleston team was a really good team,” he added.

An injury kept Mikayla Wickline from pitching last year until the very end of the season, and that layoff had some immediate effect, but it’s not an issue this year, her coach said.

“When she came back right at the end of the year, she pitched well, but she wasn’t in pitching shape,” Greg Wickline said. “She’s throwing real well right now.”

“Nothing much seems to bother her.”

Prior to Friday night’s game, Mikayla Wickline had a 0.46 earned-run average, after pitching most of the Lady Mavs’ innings. The plans are for plenty more innings to come prior to the sectional tournament.

“With our schedule beefed up like it is, she should get a lot of pitching time,” Greg Wickline said. “She should be in great pitching shape.”

In four of James Monroe’s first nine games, the Lady Mavs scored 10 or more runs, but their coach sees a need for consistency from his offense.

“At times, it seems like we’re going to come out of our shell and hit well,” Greg Wickline said, “but it kind of depends on what kind of day we’re having. As the season goes on, we’re looking to get the kinks worked out and start hitting ... .”

“I’m a ‘small-ball’ coach, primarily,” he said, “but right now, for some reason, we’re not bunting the ball well. But we’ve got some people hitting well, and we’ve got some speed in the lineup, so if we can get on base, we’re good at putting pressure on the defense.”

Laine Shiflet, who plays third base, is “hitting the ball real well,” Greg Wickline said. She leads the team in batting average and slugging percentage and is “very good on defense,” he said.

Becca Ratliff is the shortstop, and Hillary Hersman is stationed at second base. First base is shared by Samantha Ferguson and Kelsie Gillespie.

Senior Cassidy Hedrick plays in right field, and a corps of three freshmen — Megan Bailey, Bailee Jackson and Haileah Pickles — also get starts in the outfield.

“They’re going to go through some freshman mistakes,” Greg Wickline said, “but they’re getting better every day.”

Jenna Hancock, who has proven to be one of the top catchers in southern West Virginia prep softball, “a couple of weeks ago, tore up her knee,” the coach said. Kelsey Christian has donned the armor behind the plate.

Greg Wickline said, “She stepped in and she’s handled herself pretty well. ... We’ve got high hopes for her, by the end of the season, that she can be a really good catcher.”

The hot start to the season, which included wins over three Class AAA teams, landed the Lady Mavs in fifth place in Class AA in the first statewide prep softball poll of West Virginia sports writers.

The win streak has gotten the girls in the right frame of mind, according to their coach.

“That’s what we were hoping — to keep the girls’ confidence up,” he said. “Winning, hopefully, will keep their spirits up.”

— Contact Tom Bone at tbone@bdtonline.com