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Prep softball: Hager fans 22, Ripley beats South Charleston in 11 innings

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Timely execution and a career-best pitching performance propelled the Ripley softball team past South Charleston in a Class AAA Region 3 semifinal Thursday night.

Vikings starting pitcher Chelsey Hager tossed a complete game, with 22 strikeouts, and hits didn't come with ease, though they came at the right moments as Ripley prevailed 4-1 in 11 innings. Ripley advances to host Shady Spring in the Region 3 championship at 6 p.m. May 16. The Tigers eliminated Greenbrier East in the other regional semifinal 4-0 on Thursday.

"That's the way it is sometimes: you just have to battle and battle and battle," Vikings Coach Ken Swisher said. "Once kids learn that, that they don't quit and play as a team and depend on each individual, you have a pretty good team."

After Ripley tied the contest at 1 in the seventh, neither the Vikings, nor the Black Eagles manufactured another run until the 11th.

With one out and a runner on third base, Ripley's Kelsey Moore executed a squeeze bunt to perfection. South Charleston attempted to field, but could not beat the racing runner to the plate. The run gave the Vikings a 2-1 lead.

"It was a great opportunity," Swisher said of the squeeze. "We had speed in the right place at the right time and got the ball down. It was just great execution. The kids just did exactly what we asked them to do."

Two batters later, Ashley Mellinger provided insurance with a two-out, two-run single to give Ripley a 4-1 advantage.

South Charleston Coach Bobby Catlett said the squeeze play was one he anticipated, but the Black Eagles could do nothing against the play.

"I pretty much knew it was a straight up squeeze and we had to keep that runner (from scoring)," he said. "They executed to perfection and it's hard to stop a squeeze if executed properly. We didn't get an out and that didn't help us any, then they got a base hit and got a couple more."

Ripley's offense gave the Vikings the lift to push past SC, though Hager kept Ripley within reach with her dominating pitching.

"She just carried us, and she did that since we started having to pitch her regularly, because we lost our No. 1 pitcher at the beginning of the year," Swisher said. "I saw her keep reaching back and she wouldn't take no for an answer basically. She just kept battling."

Hager, a junior, allowed a single run in the sixth as her lone blemish. Afterward, inning after inning, Hager continued to quell the Black Eagles bats.

"It was tough," Hager said of the long outing. "Sometimes I thought I couldn't do it and I just had to dig deeper and deeper."

As one pitcher exhibited her impressive skills, the SC loss marked the final game to another's outstanding career in Black Eagles pitcher Alli Burdette.

Burdette, an Elon University recruit, struck out 15 and walked just two in 11 innings. She did not allow a hit until Hager's lead-off double that started Ripley's game-tying rally in the seventh.

By the 11th, Burdette said the Ripley hitters had timed her pitches.

"Into the 11th inning, the batters had seen me five or six times," she said. "It's easier to get the timing and they learn how to make contact."

Both teams struggled offensively until Ripley's 11th-inning breakout.

SC squandered several opportunities before heading to extra innings. The Black Eagles were 0-for-5 with five strikeouts with runners in scoring position until Amanda McDonald hit an RBI single in the sixth.

In the seventh, Ripley's Dusti Fisher produced the game-tying hit with an RBI single following Hager's lead-off double.

In addition to her winning pitching performance, Hager finished 2-for-4 at the plate with a double. SC's McDonald also recorded a multi-hit game to finish 2-for-3 with a double and RBI.


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