High School Sports

Preview: 4A softball playoffs

Region champions White Knoll and Blythewood lead a seven-team Midlands contingent into the Class 4A state softball playoffs on Thursday.

The Region 5-4A ruling Timberwolves (20-6) posted a 13-1 region record and wrapped the championship with an 8-2 triumph over neighboring Lexington on Monday night. The win allowed WK to move up two spots to No. 7 in this week’s rankings, one spot ahead of the Wildcats.

The Timberwolves, who have won seven in a row after going 2-3 over spring break at the Azalea Invitational Tournament in Summerville, host West Ashley in Thursday’s District V opener. Pitcher Shelly Jeffcoat figures to handle the bulk of the work in the circle in the playoffs after posting a 15-4 record and a 0.61 ERA during the regular season with 177 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 126 innings. Despite missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury, Codee Yeske still led WK in hitting (.415) and home runs (4) and was second in RBIs (18). Sara Eisenhower (.315, 19, runs, 19 RBIs, nine doubles) and Brittany Williamson (.357, 26 runs, seven steals) helped fill the void when Yeske was on the shelf.

Blythewood is now 4-for-4 in region championships since its inaugural campaign in 2006, and raised its first 4A flag this season by going 9-1 en route to the Region 4-4A pennant this spring. The Bengals (17-7 overall) didn’t falter until the final region game against second-place Lancaster on Monday after they had clinched the title with a 13-3 win over Rock Hill last Friday on Senior Night. Blythewood sports an all-time 41-3 region report card.

Pitchers Megan Marsh (10-4, 2 saves, 2.26 ERA) and southpaw Kelly Owens (5-1, 2 saves, 1.31 ERA) are the keys to Blythewood’s plans for a long playoff stay at the highest level. The Bengals make their 4A playoff debut Thursday at home against Fort Mill. Hillary Stewart (.468, 18 runs, 27 RBIs), Owens (.464, 28 runs, 15 steals), Paige Owczarczak (.414, 20 runs) and Paige Hartfield (.355, 17 runs, 16 steals) are the regular-season offensive leaders.

Sumter is the only other Midlands team with a first-round home date. The Gamecocks (15-9) finished second to South Florence in Region 6-4A and will host Berkley in the other District V game on Thursday. Sutton Watson is a do-it-all star for Sumter. The sophomore is 14-6 with a 1.25 ERA and 201 strikeouts in the circle, and is also the top Gamecocks hitter (.338, 12 RBIs).

Otherwise, eight-ranked Lexington (20-6) has a long road trip to Walterboro to face Colleton County in District VII, Irmo (10-14) travels to face 10th-ranked Summerville, the No. 1 seed in District VIII, Spring Valley (13-12) heads to Fort Mill to take on Nation Ford in District I and Ridge View (9-14) is at fifth-ranked Gaffney in District III play.

Lexington, which missed the playoff cut last season for the first time in memory, has rebounded with a terrific season with a young, enthusiastic team. A positive attitude is great, but the real turnaround can be linked to offseason focus on improved hitting. All the hard work has paid big dividends this spring. The Wildcats remained in 5-4A pennant contention by batting .321 as a team. Six starters are hitting between .333 and .390, underscoring the across-the-board gains. Sophomore Lindsay Gore (.390, 30 hits), senior Emily Caughman (.375, 16 runs), senior Ashley Whitaker (.333) and sophomore Meagan Lynch (.375) have all done their part, but sophomore Kayley Wilson and freshman Brittany Carr have been the major producers. Wilson is hitting .378 with 16 runs, 20 RBI, eight doubles and three home runs. Carr is at .338 with 26 runs, 21 RBIs, five doubles, four triples and four homers.

Spring Valley opens the playoffs on the road for the first time in at least 18 years after finishing third in Region 4-4A. Seniors Brianna McBride (.313, 21 runs, 14 steals) and Kara June (.368, 14 RBIs, nine steals), sophomore Mariah Sanborn (.338, 17 RBIs) and eighth-grader Morgan Barker (.361, 16 RBIs) have had solid offensive seasons. Barker (7-4, 1.68 ERA) and freshman Rachel Mellin (6-8, 2.44 ERA) have been solid in the circle, and are the foundation of the future.

Ridge View won its last three region games to grab fourth place in 4-4A and return to the playoffs. Pitcher Brooke Dimock has a 3.45 ERA and 85 strikeouts. Megan Woodall (.275) is the leading hitter on a team that has struggled to score runs all season.