RIPLEY - The Ripley High softball team have proven to be a quite obstinate lot. The squad has fought through injuries, inexperience and one tough pitching duel after another. After the smoke has cleared, coach Swisher's crew finds themselves within striking distance of their second Class AAA State Championship in four years as they enter the West Virginia State Softball Tournament on Wednesday.
"We are a young team but we don't use that as a crutch. Our girls know that they can perform at a high level regardless of their age. We have experienced growing pains along the way. I am very proud of this group of girls and I am excited for them to be in this position," said coach Swisher by phone on Sunday evening.
Coach Swisher's youthful enthusiasm for his girls is infectious and he makes it clear that the Lady Vikings are in it to win it.
Ripley's road to the 2013 State Tournament was lined with a pair of All State hurlers that the Lady Vikings had to conquer.
After squeezing by a scrappy Riverside squad and a South Charleston team that boasted All State pitcher Ally Burdette, Ripley faced another tough customer on the hill in the Region 3 championship game on Thursday versus Shady Spring at Lady Viking Park.
Katie Snodgrass had only lost three games all season but Ripley hitters jumped on the hurler and beat the Lady Tigers, 8-0 in a mercy rule shortened six-inning affair.
Ripley's pitching superhero has been Chelsey Hager. The junior has opened the eyes of All State voters and become a topic of conversation in softball circles statewide. Hager (15-6) has posted a sub-one ERA this season and has struck out 143 batters in 124 innings, highlighted by a 22 strike out performance against South Charleston in sectional play.
"She has become a leader on our club. She in intense and she wants to win badly," said Swisher.
Ripley has received a boost from freshmen like Myranda Murphy, Kelsey Moore and Darby Petersen on a team short on upper classmen.
Junior Dusti Fisher (.350) and sophomore Ashley Mellinger (.315) have had strong post seasons as senior Ali Cunningham proves to be a vexation on the bases for opposing catchers.
On Wednesday at 11:15 a.m. on Jackson Field in Vienna, Ripley (23-10) will face Jefferson in a showdown to kick off the tourney for both teams.
Jefferson (20-8) beat Buckhannon-Upshur 6-3 Friday to win the Class AAA, Region 2 final.
Alexandra Witt is the team's leading flamethrower on the hill. Jenna Witt, who mashed a homer in the Buckhannon-Upshur game along with Claire Davis who had two RBI singles lead the Lady Cougar hitting attack.
For the Lady Vikings, who haven't consistently scored a lot of runs this season, it will be important to play defense behind Hager and keep the damage to a minimum. Solid, fundamental defense, smart base running and timely hitting to support a solid pitching effort from Hager will put the Lady Vikings in the catbird's seat.
Ripley will play two games on Wednesday. If the blue and white were to win both games that day it would propel them to the championship game on Thursday providing the shortest route to their destination.
This will be Ripley Softball's sixth appearance in the State Tournament that began in 1987. Ripley fell to Milton (now part of Cabell Midland) in the finals. That team was coached by Tess Gump. Ashley White, Missy Robinson and Lori Judge earned All-Tournament honors.