Whitewater opens up with wins over county foes

Raegan Byrom powered the Wildcats to victory with a strong start on the mound and a grand slam with the bat in her hand. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)

Wildcats too much for Fayette County squad in 20-0 win

by Rob Grubbs

A new school year just started and softball has already entered into region schedules as the Whitewater Wildcats traveled to face the Fayette County Tigers on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats opened last week with a 15-3 win over the Lovejoy Wildcats, while the Tigers began their campaign without last year’s Fayette County Hitter of the Year and four-year starter Rikkelle Miller, who will be playing for the Grambling State Tigers in the spring. After dodging some lightning and rain drops early, Tigers pitcher India Martin kept things close at first, but wore down as the Wildcat’s lineup scored 14 runs in the third inning on the way to a 20-0 run-shortened win.

Martin held the Wildcats to just two runs in the first inning as her speed caught the hitters off stride. The Tigers got a great defensive play in centerfield from Jada Brooks in the second inning that kept them in the game.

Once Whitewater got their timing down, they unleashed a relentless assault. Senior Bailey Vessell got the Wildcats on the board in the first with a sharp slap single to left that scored Kyee Ricks and they never looked back.

They put the game away with the big third inning when Bailey Vessell, Ricks, Lily Griffith, Alexis Larrow, and Emma Vessell had RBI hits. The big blow was a grand slam off the bat of Raegan Byrom into the vegetation outside the left-field fence that put things way out of reach. Along with her grand slam, Byrom also led from the circle, pitching two innings of no-hit ball and striking out five. Bree Hiessen completed the no-hit game, getting the last out via a strikeout.

Wildcat coach Robert Townsend only lost two seniors from last year’s squad and played a lot of freshmen who return a year older and more experienced. Their lineup has great balance between speed and power and everyone can hit from top to bottom.

“For our first region game, I thought we had great team effort and we look forward to seeing how we improve this season,” said Townsend.

With Starr’s Mill and McIntosh both returning major pieces of their roster and solid pitching, the race for the Region 3-AAAAA championship is going to come down to the wire like it always does. It will depend on which team does the little things well, which seem to a strength of the current version of the Wildcats.

 


 

The Vessell sisters, Emma (left) and Bailey (below right), led Whitewater to a win over McIntosh Thursday. (Photos by Michael Clifton / www.kombatkamera.com)

Vessell sisters lead Wildcats to 9-1 victory over McIntosh

by Jaylon Thompson

The 2018 softball campaign provided an early glimpse into the Region 3-AAAAA race as the McIntosh Chiefs renewed their rivalry with the Whitewater Wildcats.

Both teams had the game circled since the offseason, but it was the Wildcats that pulled out a 9-1 victory. They improved to 3-0 behind some timely hits and a strong pitching display from senior Emma Vessell in the circle.

“They are our crosstown rival and our girls get up for them,” Whitewater head coach Robert Townsend said. “We wanted to play some good softball, and I think our girls stepped up and did what they needed to do tonight.”

The Wildcats jumped out to an early lead behind a potent offensive attack. Bailey Vessell got the first inning started with a single up the middle. She quickly came around to score on an RBI groundout from Alexis Larrow. Whitewater went on to score two more runs in the frame as designated player Kate Flanagan provided the big blow with a RBI single.

With a three-run lead, Emma Vessell found a groove on the mound. She overpowered the Chiefs with a devastating fastball and a sweeping slider. Vessell went six innings and allowed one run in her outing. Although she scattered seven hits, she felt her performance gave the team the best shot to win.

“I felt pretty good and I kept them unbalanced,” Emma Vessell said. “It means a lot as it goes towards the state championship, and that is what we are chasing.”

The Wildcats continued to add to their lead. They scored six more times in the second, fourth, and fifth innings. Whitewater also got huge production from Bailey Vessell and Lily Griffith, who had a great night against Chiefs starter Rebecca Muh.

“I saw the ball out of her hand and I had an idea of where it was going,” Bailey Vessell said. “It felt good hitting against her and I was confident.”

The duo provided most of the damage in the lineup as Vessell went 3-for-4 with five stolen bases. Griffith drove in two runs on a 3-for-3 night that included a triple to center field. Larrow also drove in two runs, while Alexys Buffington added a double to the effort.

“We ran the bases well and got some timely hitting,” Townsend said. “We also got some great pitching from Emma Vessell tonight. Overall, I thought we did an outstanding job in making some things happen when we needed to.”

As the game progressed, McIntosh found some momentum at the plate. CassiDee Rotolo scored the lone run in the sixth inning. She started with a single and came around to score on Muh’s RBI base hit.

The Chiefs collected three hits and showed encouraging signs that should help them compete in region play. After the game, head coach Carlie Anderson said she was proud of her young team. She hopes they can continue to focus in as the season goes on.

“We have a lot of young players, and I thought towards the end of the game, we settled in at the plate and had some long at-bats,” Anderson said. “We kind of heated up at the end of the game. Hats off to Whitewater as they were very aggressive and that was what won them the game tonight.”

Both teams admitted that some things need to be corrected heading into the next game. McIntosh hopes to find the right keys as the Battle of the Bubble against Starr’s Mill is on the horizon.

“We improved, and that is what we were looking for,” Anderson said. “It’s about finding the right lineup at the right time.”

Whitewater looks to be more efficient as they head into a doubleheader against Arabia Mountain and Upson-Lee on Saturday.

“As the season goes on, we are going to find that niche,” Townsend said. “There are always things to work on and we will continue to work.”

The rivals will face again on September 6 at McIntosh.

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