SOUTH CHARLESTON - Chelsey Hager shot down more birds than Ted Nugent on a hunting trip.
In the Region 3 semifinals on Thursday night, the junior hurler whiffed 22 Lady Black Eagles en-route to an 11 inning, 4-1 victory which catapults the Lady Vikings into the Region 3 Championship May 16 at 6 p.m. at Lady Viking Park.
Shady Spring eliminated Greenbrier East on Thursday to earn the shot at Ripley to advance to the Class AAA State Tournament.
Hager went toe-to-toe will All State hurler Alli Burdette and in the end outlasted her opponent to get the victory.
Down 1-0 in the top of the seventh, Hager stood at the plate with a 1-and-2 count with no outs and no ducks on the pond.
Hager took Burdette's next offering, a belt level fastball, and mashed it to left center. The ball hit the top of the wall and careened back into play. Three more inches and it would have certainly been a home run.
Hager took second base on the play. With one out, Dusti Fisher brought her teammate home with a sharp single and advanced to second on a fielder's choice at the plate where Hager safely beat the throw.
Hager looked strong on the hill in the eighth but that wasn't necessarily the case.
"Honestly, in the seventh I was feeling fatigued. I got my second wind around the ninth inning and I started feeling good again. I wasn't thinking too much out there just reacting," said Hager.
In the top of the eleventh, still knotted at two, Senior Ali Cunningham got something started when she singled and stole second base. She advanced to third on a bad throw and scored when Kelsey Moore executed a text-book squeeze play that the lady Eagles could not defend.
Moore and Hager scored when Ashley Mellinger does what she does best. Hit in the clutch. Mellinger laced a flare to left field that resulted in a double and a 4-1 Lady Viking advantage.
Coach Swisher stuck with Hager in the bottom of the inning and it proved to be a stellar choice on the part of the veteran coach. Hager slammed the door on the Lady Eagles much like an angry child who was told to go to their room.
"We knew coming in it was going to be a dog fight. They edged us twice this year and it felt good to get one at a crucial time like this. The girls just kept pushing and refused to be denied. I am very proud of this team tonight," said Coach Ken Swisher.
"I have witnessed some amazing pitching performances from our girls, especially during our run in 2009 (AAA championship), but this one ranks right up there with the best. Chelsey showed what she is made of tonight."
Page 2 of 2 - The flamethrower was thrust to the front of the Ripley rotation when All State hurler Reese Gandee was lost for the season with an elbow injury.
Hager led the Lady Vikings at the plate with a 2-for-4 performance with a double.
Burdette fanned 15 in the contest for South Charleston.
Ripley will taste the regional finals for the first time since 2009 when Swisher's crew went the distance and brought home the AAA State Championship.