Blythewood is off to an excellent start on its quest to win a seventh consecutive region softball championship.
Bucky Ware’s Bengals opened the Region 4-4A campaign this week with a bang – posting wins over top contenders Spring Valley and Dutch Fork. Blythewood nipped SV 3-2 in Tuesday’s region and regular season opener and capped an overall 3-0 week with a 9-2 success against Dutch Fork on Friday in its home opener.
“I was really pleased because this was a very clean win,” said Ware. “We played about as good as we can play. We hit the ball well, pitched well and the defense was very good. We’re still real young but we’ve also a veteran team and we were relaxed and played with a lot of confidence tonight.”
Both teams ended up with nine hits. The difference was in the field. Dutch Fork was guilty of five errors, while the Bengals had no defensive miscues behind freshman right-hander Katie Chappell, who improved to 2-0. The tone was set early when three DF throwing errors led to three unearned Blythewood runs in the first inning.
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Chappell, Lori Owens and Michaela Wickham all had two hits for the Bengals. Chappell and Wickham both had two RBIs. Every hitter in the Bengals batting order contributed something tangible to the cause – be it a hit, a run scored, a RBI or a sacrifice to get a runner into scoring position.
The Silver Foxes (3-3 overall, 1-1 in the region) are showing their inexperience in the field.
“We’re killing ourselves with errors, but as our young players get over their nervousness I think we’ll be all right,” said DF coach Laurie Epps. “We started out slow last season, too, and we came on strong at the end.”
Freshmen Madi Brown and Hayley Elkins provided the bulk of the highlights. Brown had two hits and scored one run. Elkins drove in Brown with a double in the third inning and line a home run over the center field fence in the seventh.
The Bengals for 6-for-6 in region championship races since the program debuted in 2006. Last year was the biggest surprise of all, considering its was virtually an entirely new teams. It didn’t matter in the long run as Ware’s youthful new-look club went 11-1 on the way to the Region 4-4A championship.
“We’re at the point with our program that our girls expect to win every time they step on the field,” said Ware. “Now, we don’t win every game, but our expectations are high no matter who we are playing.”
Blythewood welcomes back everyone from last season’s surprise 20-7 team, so experience is a team strength. The Bengals were solid offensively last season with a .349 team batting average and an average of 8.1 runs scored a game. The biggest negative a year ago was inconsistent defensive play behind pitchers location hurlers Chappell and Ellen Cordova, who both won 10 games last season.
The offensive headliners a year ago were Cordova (.457, 36 R, 14 2B, 26 RBI, 17 SB), speedy Ansley Gilstrap (.425, 20 R, 23 RBI, 20 SB), Chappell (.379, 29 R, 17 RBI), Owens (.372, 24 R, 14 2B, 21 RBI), Bailey Newman (.359, 27 R, 26 RBI, 10 SB), Jessica Roth (.291, 18 R, 18 RBI, 3 HR) and Blair Murphy (.270, 16 R, 19 RBI).
Dutch Fork outlook
The Silver Foxes were the only team to beat Blythewood in region matters a year ago, but two losses to Spring Valley relegated DF to a third place finish. But Epps’ team was the only 4-4A squad to survive the first phase of the state playoffs. The Foxes went 3-0 to win the District 7 championship, beating White Knoll twice along the way.
Dutch Forks welcomes a solid core of contributors from last season’s 19-11 squad, but must fill four key positions with newcomers – seventh grader Jenna Elkins (catcher), freshman Lindsey Mason (shortstop), seventh grader Meghan Murphy (second base) and junior Rebecca Prohaska (first base).
The top returning players are Haley Elkins, Brown and Jeanna Meetze. Elkins was the mainstay in the circle a year ago and the No. 2 hitter behind departed all-state catcher Lacy Smith. Elkins went 18-9 with 172 strikeouts in 160 innings of work. Offensively, she hit .436 with 12 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 23 runs scored and a team-high 34 RBIs. Brown (.304, 17 R, 15 RBI) and Meetze (.300, 16 R, 13 RBI) had remarkably similar numbers.
Epps is looking for more offensive production from veterans Tiffany McRae and Amanda Williams this season.