The record might not indicate it, but the Fayetteville Pirates feel they could be on the brink of a fourth straight state softball tournament appearance.
“We’ve said all year long, ‘Why not us’,” said coach Mike Bone, whose team carries a 9-19 record into today’s Class A Region 3 final, set for 5:30 p.m. against host Richwood. “It’s not a question we ask ourselves; it’s a statement.
“We started out the year young and played a pretty tough schedule. The girls never faltered, and we’re playing pretty good at the right time. And we finally have most of our kids back and healthy.”
Standing in the Pirates’ way is a Richwood squad which has won 11 straight heading into Thursday’s contest.
“Richwood’s a good team,” Bone said. “They’re 19-7.
“We’ve just got to play. We need to play our game and be aggressive at the plate.”
“We’ve picked it up,” says second-year Richwood coach Lutrisha Little, who was a senior member of the Lumberjacks’ 2005 state championship squad. “The girls have realized how close we are and what we need to do.”
“We have to put the ball in play,” stressed Little, who is joined by her father, Bill, in coaching the squad.
Richwood will be led by second baseman Toni Amick, who’s “been hitting real well” as well as playing solid defense, and catcher Tasheena Phillips, an honorable mention all-state choice a year ago.
For the Pirates, senior shortstop Taren Bone has a .353 batting average (26 for 68) with 17 walks and just six strikeouts and an on-base percentage of .603. She has also anchored the defensive infield, registering just four errors in 151 innings. “Having only four errors is pretty daggone good,” said coach Bone, her father.
Fellow senior Morgan Wheeler is hitting .380 (27 for 71) with three triples and one home run, as well as providing solid pitching for the Pirates. Junior Jessica Brown, the squad’s catcher, was injured early in the season but has rebounded to average .408 (20 for 49) with three doubles and an on-base percentage of .510.
Designated player Kelsey Norris, who also plays first base at times, is hitting .396 (19 for 48) with five doubles and a .521 OBP. Others expected to take the field in the starting lineup Thursday include Allyson Kesler at first base, Cassidy Bayes at second, Ashley Gilkerson at third, Kaitlyn Sisler in right field, Chelby Dorsey in left field, and Jamie Spearen in center field. Spearen recently recovered from an injury and has hit .333 and recorded an OBP of .611 since her return.
“Our season had some ups and downs,” admits Taren Bone. “We’ve handled our load very well. We’re young and we’re learning, and we’re playing real good ball right now.”
“It’s been bumpy,” Wheeler added, “but we kept believing and we kept working hard.
“We’ve made it (to this point) and that shows how great our team really is. We survived and we’re playing the best ball we can. We’ve just gotta play like we’ve been playing.”
“Our season’s been pretty good, although we haven’t won that many times,” Brown said. “We got a lot of experience playing double-A and triple-a teams.”
That “tough schedule” has helped prepare the Pirates for tournament time, Taren Bone feels.
“I really think we started to click when we went to the Best of the Best (tournament),” she said. “We played St. Marys and lost the game, but we started coming together. We realized we would be pretty good.”
“When sectionals started, Coach Bone told us our record didn’t matter any more,” Wheeler noted. “We just kept trucking.
“Our loss to Valley (a 4-3 setback before taking the final two from the ‘Hounds) motivated us to work hard.”
Just because Fayetteville beat Richwood 7-0 in the only 2012 meeting doesn’t mean the Pirates are taking the Lumberjacks lightly.
“We don’t think this will be an easy game,” said Taren Bone. “We know it’s not.
“We have to come with the same intensity we had when we played Valley, Meadow Bridge and Montcalm (sectionals). The key to our winning will be our intensity.”
The Pirates are hitting their stride at the right time, Brown says. “In our last few games, we’ve played real well as a team.”
Unity has been a key, she adds. “The way we’ve all come together as a team has helped us out a lot.”
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