Prince Avenue Christian’s softball team used a combination of timely hitting and strong pitching to earn a berth in the Sweet 16.
The Lady Wolverines hosted Calvary Day School last Wednesday in the first round of the Class A-Private state playoffs. They swept the best-of-three series, taking game one 8-0 and game two 10-1.
After the series, Prince Avenue Christian’s players said they entered the games with razor-sharp focus.
“I think we were all just locked in,” said center fielder Audrey Vandagriff. “We worked our hardest to make it here and all our work had paid off and we were just behind each other the whole game.”
Prince Avenue Christian got two runs in the bottom of the first inning of game one then added another in the third. The Lady Wolverines tacked on two runs in the fourth and three runs in the fifth to end the game early via mercy rule.
Game two saw the offense fire up faster. Prince Avenue Christian ran out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning.
The Lady Wolverines added a run in the third and one in the fifth. Calvary Day scored once in the bottom of the fifth to avoid ending the game at that point, but the Lady Wolverines’ two-run effort in the sixth still forced an early conclusion.
The players knew they wanted to score in bunches and their work leading into the series helped them accomplish that goal.
“We were practicing in the cages a lot,” first baseman Taylor Thomas said. “We were focused on making solid contact and we did that. We just got on and we scored and we were knocking each other in.”
Calvary’s pitcher leans hard on a changeup. It helped her keep some of the Lady Wolverines off-balance for the early stages of the series before the batters zeroed in on the pitch.
Shortstop Ella Osborne said the team slightly changed its approach after a couple of turns through the batting order, which helped the offense find a groove.
“I think we all just started realizing the changeup is gonna be a strike most of the time but let's not swing on it unless we have two strikes and need to protect,” Osborne said. “Usually, you're not gonna take a changeup like that very far unless you just square it up. We started waiting on it and she quit throwing it eventually.”
Vandagriff had three hits, including an inside-the-park home run, and three RBIs in game one. Keirsten Perry notched two hits while Thomas, Osborne and Anna Williams had one hit apiece.
Thomas and Osborne both recorded two RBIs. Vandagriff, Madi Gillespie, Lauren MacDonald, Jordan Chamberlain and Rachel Biggs each walked once.
In game two, Vandagriff had three more hits while Osborne, Chamberlain and Williams had two apiece. Thomas, Gillespie, MacDonald and Biggs all had one hit each.
Thomas, MacDonald, Chamberlain and Williams drove in two runs apiece. Gillespie walked twice while Vandagriff and Perry each walked once.
The Lady Wolverines backed up their offense with clean defense. The team committed zero errors across the two games after committing 51 during the regular season.
Head coach Donnie Byrom said the consistently rainy weather throughout the season cut into the team’s practice time on the field, which in turn took away opportunities to work on defense.
There was a stretch of sunny weather leading into the playoffs and Byrom said a return to normal practice help get the team ready to play better defense.
“We tweaked a few people, moved some people around to kind of take advantage of some strengths,” Byrom said. “If I had to say two things (that reduced errors) it would be the ability to get on the field and get reps combined with a better focus. We've talked a lot about ‘defense wins championships’ and ‘defense backs up our pitcher.’”
The defensive highlight of the day saw Osborne record an unassisted double play on a grounder in the top of the fifth inning in game one.
Osborne missed all but five early games a year ago due to a leg injury, so she entered the postseason wanting to take advantage of the opportunity.
“It was amazing because we didn't think I was going to be able to play this season at all,” Osborne said. “To be able to come out here with my team and get us into the Sweet 16 and have a good game with my teammates was an awesome feeling.”
Bailey Throckmorton turned in a pair of dominant performances in the pitcher’s circle.
Throckmorton tossed all five innings of game one and allowed just two hits and no walks. She struck out five batters.
Gillespie started game two but Throckmorton replaced her after one inning and finished the game with just one run allowed on two hits and four walks. She struck out five more batters in game two.
Byrom praised Throckmorton for her work, noting that her duties were even more important due to an ankle injury Gillespie suffered during the area tournament.
“Bailey stepped up and has really focused, been intense and is throwing the ball hard,” Byrom said. “Early in the year, she wasn't really reaching back and challenging batters but when Madi doesn’t really have the drive because her ankle is still healing right now, Bailey was there for us. We complimented her in front of the whole team because that's important and it's something that, a month ago, she wasn't ready for.”
Prince Avenue Christian returns to action Wednesday in the Sweet 16.
The Lady Wolverines travel to Mt. Vernon, which finished the season 19-2 and earned a first-round bye.
Mount Vernon fell to Prince Avenue Christian in last year’s playoffs. Byrom said if his team wants to oust the Lady Mustangs again, it must turn in another complete performance.
“We expect close games,” Byrom said. “It may be a series that goes to the third game, so the advantage goes to them being the home team. It's basically eight of the 10 players that played against us last year in the doubleheader. They've added a really good leadoff hitter. Their pitcher is a sophomore who mixes in the changeup and throws every pitch. We're just gonna have to go there and let our offense kind of carry us and play that defense that we saw against Calvary.”