RIPLEY - The season began with a positive energy and an infectious enthusiasm earlier this spring for the Ripley High Softball team. The squad was coming off of a 17 win season a year ago and while the team lost four seniors from last season, there was an abundance of talent in the middle school pipeline to help ease that burden for coach Kenny Swisher.
Make no mistake about it, the team would need a boost from their talented freshman right out of the gate but the team would have to be prepared for devastating loses due to injury throughout the season.

The squad won eight in a row and edged into the Class AAA top 10 softball rankings at No. 9 before being derailed in a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to a hot hitting Winfield team.

"We really came out of the gate focused and ready to play. We started to define who we were as a team and during the Greenbrier East game the girls showed me what they were made of," said Swisher.

Ripley came back in dramatic fashion in a game that featured one of the plays of the season when Ali Cunningham stole home to ignite her teammates in a 10-7 victory.

This victory was bittersweet as it would be Reese Gandee's last appearance on the mound as the two-time All State selection had her season derailed with elbow problems.

With the absence of Gandee, left fielder Chelsey Hager was called on for duty on the hill and she didn't disappoint.
For Ripley (24-12), Hager was poised and confident as she put together a season that would earn her a First Team Class AAA All State selection.

Versus South Charleston on April 11, Hager faced fellow All Stater Alli Burdette in a showdown for the ages. Hager had a no-hitter brewing in the sixth but the Lady Eagles etched an unearned run and squeaked out a 1-0 win in what ended as a 1-hitter for Hager.

Ripley lost their leading hitter (.530) in Meghan Brannnon in the Saint Albans victory on April 12. Brannon had surgery on a broken hand shortly after and was lost for the season.

The development of Ashley Mellinger throughout the season was something to behold. The super sophomore catcher handled young freshman pitchers like the talented Darby Petersen with ease and developed a tremendous brand of communication with Hager.

"I would say she was our most improved player throughout the season. She was tough in the clutch and even her outs were hard hit. Ashley has learned to protect the plate and we expect big things in her future," said Swisher.
"Our young girls like Myranda Murphy and Kelsey more took big steps for us throughout the season."

One of the highlights of the season was a 4-2 victory over eventual Class AAA champs Hurricane at Lady Viking Park.
"The are a very, very good hitting team. That was our second turning point in the year. The girls knew they were onto something good," said Swisher.

The Lady Vikings drew a scrappy Riverside team in their Region 3 Section 4 matchup in the appropriately named city of Diamond.

It took three games but Ripley disposed of the Lady Warriors in the final game, 3-2 to draw a sectional final matchup with South Charleston.

In South Charleston, the game went 11 innings and Hager mowed down 22 hitters en-route to a 4-1 victory, avenging the previous loss to Burdette and the black and orange crew. Senior Ali Cunningham sparked the team with a timely stolen base and a run scored.

"That was just a masterful pitching performance by Chelsey and gutsy play from Dusti Fisher, Ali Cunningham and quite honestly, the whole team. What an effort." added Swisher.

Fisher led the Lady Vikings in many offensive categories and made zero errors from her perch in right field.
In the Regional Finals, Ripley drew the Shady Spring Lady Tigers. The Lady Vikings disposed of the Raleigh County squad with ease, 8-0 as Hager dominated the Lady Tiger batters.

Hannah Ford and Kelsey Moore made highlight reel defensive stops in the game to preserve the shutout.
The State Softball Tournament came calling for the girls in blue and Ripley their dreams with them to Vienna for a showdown in game one with Jefferson.

"I think my proudest moment of the year was seeing the support we had and the fact that we had more fans there than any other school. That says a lot about our parents, our community and our school. I couldn't have been prouder," added Swisher.

While Ripley went quietly losing 3-2 to Jefferson and bowing out of the tourney in a 8-3 loss to Wheeling Park, it was a tremendous season full of thrills, spills and lots of victories.

While the squad will lose Ali Cunningham's stellar play in centerfield, the Ladies look loaded for next season. Coach Swisher likes his team's chances.
"I honestly believe that we can only stop ourselves next season. We can challenge for a championship."