Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

April 25, 2014

James Monroe softball team yearns for more in postseason

LINDSIDE — A taste of success in the state softball tournament in 2013 was not enough for the James Monroe High School softball team.

The Mavericks have a hearty appetite for a return to Vienna next month.

James Monroe reached the Class AA championship game last May, losing to Wayne High, which won the title for the second straight year.

Does the Mavericks’ accomplishment of last year weigh on this spring’s squad?

“I think it probably does put a little bit of pressure on them, but also, they have that taste in their mouth,” said head coach Greg Wickline.

“We had a lot of fun. We went down there and played some good teams, beat a couple of good teams while we were down there. The atmosphere was good for them.”

“They want to get back.”

They began that quest with a 6-0 start, and the record stood at 14-6 prior to their spring break this past week.

Wickline, interviewed last week, said, “Two years ago, if we were where we’re at right now, everybody would be happy. (They would say) ‘Hey man, you-all have only lost four games. You’re doing great,’ whatever. It just doesn’t feel like that to us.”

“We let a couple of games slip away from us that — you know, things happen. And they know that. They’re just trying, every game, to (correct mistakes).”

“They’re not OK with losing, which I love. I want them to be nervous. I want them to cry if they get beat. I’m glad that they have that passion for the game.”

The schedule has included “some good teams,” Wickline said, naming PikeView, Wyoming East, Westside, Independence and Liberty among them.

“We’ve played the teams that we have to get through to go to states,” he said. “We’ve played those teams, and I’m pretty confident that (we) feel like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a shot. We can beat them.’ There’s not anybody we have played that we can’t beat.”

He noted, “It’s never a bad thing to be a little bit confident.”

Their schedule includes a pair of Class AAA schools, South Charleston and nearby Greenbrier East, plus Class AA powerhouse Scott.

Today’s slate, weather permitting, shows a challenging doubleheader in Summersville with games against Nicholas County and Herbert Hoover, “which is a powerhouse in that area,” Wickline said.

That will end the spring break week for the Mavs. Their final two regular-season games are scheduled to be Monday at Shady Spring and Thursday at Bluefield.

Plenty of players return from last year’s state runner-up squad for Wickline, who is  currently in his fourth year in charge of the Mavericks.

“I have a great group of girls, so far. They get along well,” he said. “They’re not 100 percent happy with where we’re at, right now. I don’t think we’re exactly where we need to be, and they don’t think that, either — which is a good thing.”

“You can just see it in their eyes, that we definitely are better than what we’re playing right now. And we’re doing pretty good; we’re not doing bad. It’s just that I know we can do better, and so do they.”

Mikayla Wickline, a cousin of the coach, led the Mavericks last year with her dominant pitching. She has graduated, and junior Rebecca Ratliff “is carrying the majority of the load right now,” Greg Wickline said.

“She’s not a flame-thrower, by (any) means, but the drop ball is working real well for her right now,” he said.

Other pitchers on the staff include sophomore Bailee Jackson and freshman Lexi Carter.

“Going into the year, we were, hey, whichever one of them is pitching the best, that’s what we’re going to go with,” the head coach said.

“Bailee is such an asset in center field, it is hard to take her out of center field. ... and Becca’s pitching pretty well right now, so it’s kind of working out.”

Also returning to the outfield are sophomores Haileah Pickles in right and Megan Bailey in left. The unit is a year older and looks to be a year wiser, Greg Wickline said.

“I started three freshmen in the outfield last year, and you could definitely tell,” he said.

“With coaching, you can kind of see, from their freshman year to their sophomore year, (it’s) totally different. The confidence at the plate, the confidence running the bases, going after a fly ball ... That group of girls there are doing real well.”

Bailey bats third in the order and Pickles has been alternating between leadoff and the No. 9 spot.

Cassie Weikle, a freshman, is starting behind the plate. “She’s come a long ways from the beginning, and she’ll just keep getting better and better,” Wickline said.

Though Weikle has played some at the position, the coach said, “It’s a little bit different, at this (varsity) level. I ask a lot of my catchers; I was a catcher in high school. They can see the whole field.”

“We’re taking baby steps with her, right now — learn this in this game, learn this in this game, that type of thing. But she’s doing really well.”

The experienced infield is the strength of the squad, led by junior Laine Shiflet, who is “as good a third baseman as there is, probably,” Wickline said. Her average is “over .700,” he said, “and she’s hit a few home runs.”

Senior Whitney Ogle, who was hurt part of last year, is back at shortstop. Senior Hillary Hersman “is just now getting back in the swing of things,” Wickline said. “She’s got an ACL issue. She’s got a brace on it. ... She’s doing pretty well on that.”

Senior Samantha Ferguson, stationed again at first base, “is coming around right now and hitting the ball pretty well,” Wickline said.

“They talk pretty well with each other,” he said about his infielders. “They all know what their job is.”

Ferguson and Shiflet, along with Mikayla Wickline, were named to the all-Class AA tournament team last May. Shiflet and Wickline were first team all-state; Ferguson and Ratliff made special honorable mention, and Hersman was on the honorable mention list.

The coach noted that softball is not considered the top sport at James Monroe. “I’m hopefully trying to get all that turned around a little bit,” he said.

His players share his desire that the sport continue to succeed, he said.

“I want them to play everything,” he said. “If they want to play every sport, I’m all for it. But now, they’re getting now to where they love the softball like they love the basketball, like they love the volleyball, soccer, and that type of thing.”

“That means a lot to the team, when they want to play. That means a lot.”

Partly because of Monroe County’s distance from larger population centers, most of the players do not form up into a summer travel team to get more experience together, as many prep sports do these days.

“I wish we did,” Wickline said. “It’s not going to happen this year, but possibly next summer, I think they’re going to allow us to coach all summer. Then, maybe we can work something out like that.

“It would be nice, because you go to some of these schools, and they’ve got 12, 14 kids on their team playing travel ball, and it makes a world of difference.”

Wickline’s assistant coaches are Jerome Jackson and Keith Carter, the fathers of Bailee Jackson and Lexi Carter.

— Contact Tom Bone at

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