By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Lightning on the horizon brought Wednesday's final game of the state softball tournament to an end.
The James Monroe Lady Mavericks had felt a shock long before that.
A 10-run third inning put the defending Class AA state champion Wayne Pioneers into the driver's seat for today's championship round of the tournament.
The score was 14-1 in Wayne's favor when a lightning delay was called at 8:32 p.m. at the end of the fourth inning. Though no rain fell for at least half an hour, the sky kept up its light show.
The head coaches and tournament officials went into a huddle and James Monroe head coach Greg Wickline took the option of allowing the game to be called final. It is officially ruled as a forfeit.
Wayne head coach Tish Smith applauded Wickline's decision. "It's the safety of the players that's most important," she said.
The idea of suspending the game and finishing it early this morning was not appetizing. She said, "My players are happy that now they can sleep late."
Wickline said, "We were really looking forward to playing Wayne. They're the defending state champions."
That lasted one scoreless inning. Then five illegal pitches were called on James Monroe starter Mikayla Wickline for stepping off the pitching rubber before releasing the ball.
She was visibly frustrated -- more so after assistant coach Bobby Wickline was ejected for verbally objecting to the first-base official's illegal pitch calls.
Greg Wickline said the problem with a dirt depression in front of the pitching rubber that was first observed in the midday game was again the cause of her pitcher's dilemma. He said, "It was really unfortunate that they were calling the illegal pitches on Mikayla. It was a really, really deep hole out there."
Three fielding errors after that, plus Tasha Maynard's RBI single, led to a 4-0 Wayne lead after two innings.
Becca Ratliff moved over from shortstop to pitch. In the third, Wickline switched back with her to pitch to a couple of batters. Then it was freshman Bailee Jackson's turn to work against the state champions. Ratliff returned to the circle for the end of the fourth and the scoreless fifth inning.
Three more James Monroe errors in the third inning helped the Pioneers to their double-digit inning.
Greg Wickline said, "We kind of fell apart, so to speak, after all that was going on, after so many (illegal pitch calls). We depend on Mikayla a lot."
Pinch hitters were inserted liberally into the lineup by both teams after the middle of the third. The Lady Mavs got their run in the bottom of the third when freshman Brooke Prunesti hit a nice single to right, advanced on Jackson's single, and scored on a single past shortstop by Hillary Hersman. Hersman was 2 for 2 at the plate. Becca Ratliff and Tierra Carr got James Monroe's other hits.
Wayne pitcher Jessie Rowe handled all four innings, striking out five batters -- including all the outs of the James Monroe fourth. She gave up six hits and did not walk a batter.
Greg Wickline said that if it weren't for the Lady Mavs' pitching problems, "I feel like that it would have been a really nice ballgame. One way or the other, I thought it would have been a really good ballgame."
"But it is what it is, and we've got to come out (Thursday) and play Ritchie County in the morning and see what happens from there."
The Lady Mavericks will face Ritchie County in the loser's bracket elimination game. Ritchie County lost 4-1 to Wayne on Wednesday prior to the James Monroe-Wayne game, then beat Petersburg 12-0 in an elimination game.
The winner of this morning's game advances via the double-elimination format to play Wayne in the Class AA championship, set to start at 2:30 p.m. today. If Wayne loses that game, a second game will be necessary to determine the new champion.
Wayne coach Smith said, "We're ready. We're motivated. We come in with a lot of momentum. I think we have a great shot of going back-to-back."
—Contact Tom Bone
At Jackson Memorial Park
Wayne...................................04(10) 0 — 14 8 0
James Monroe.......................001 0 — 1 6 6
Jessie Rowe and Emily Thompson. Mikaya Wickline, Becca Ratliff (2), Wickline (3), Bailee Jackson (3), Ratliff (3) and Kelsie Gillespie. WP - Rowe. LP - Wickline.