MCARTHUR — Vinton County was at somewhat of an advantage headed into Monday’s Division II sectional semi-final game, yet it proved to be somewhat of a disadvantage at the same time.
The last time the Lady Vikings had taken the field for a game was nearly a week before, following back-to-back rainouts against Wellston and Washington Court House.
Yet, their opponent last Wednesday was River Valley, so the Vikings knew what to expect from the Raiders.
After splitting the season series, the Raiders came through with one more clutch hit than the Vikings in Monday’s sectional game. Vinton County saw its 2019 season end with a 6-5 loss to a TVC-Ohio rival.
“This is the second or third time in as many years that we’ve played River Valley in the tournament, and it’s always a competitive game,” Vinton County coach Jeremy Ward said. “It can be challenge dealing with the rainouts that canceled our last two games, and I was curious to see how we’d come out. Honestly, I was happy with how we played. We battle through some tough spots and grinded. But we didn’t do the little things and it cost us.”
River Valley wasted no time scoring in the first two innings off an RBI single from Brooklyn Sizemore and an RBI groundout by Baylee Hollanbaugh.
Vinton County cracked the scoreboard in the bottom of the second after an RBI single from Jazmynn Sharp, scoring Sydney Smith for a 2-1 deficit.
After Kasey Birchfield pushed the lead to 3-1 with an RBI single, the Vikings found a little bit of luck after the Raiders committed a fielding error that scored two runs with some heads up base-running to tie the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the third.
“We were much more crisp on the base paths,” Ward said. “We had a few opportunities and took advantage of them once we could. We bunted the ball exceptionally well to put us in better scoring positions.”
The Raiders put up another run in the fourth inning, following a sacrifice fly from Hollanbaugh. However, the Vikings had a counter.
With runners on second and third, Lacy Stapleton came through with a massive 2-run single that gave the Vikings their first lead 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth.
Fast forward to the seventh inning: the Raiders had runners on second and third with two outs. Chloe Gee, who was 0-for-3 up to that point with a pair of strikeouts, delivered the most clutch hit of the Raiders’ season with a 2-run double to left field with two strikes to retake the lead 6-5 and preserve the win.
“She smoked that ball and you can only hope it’s hit directly to the fielder,” Ward said. “Give (Gee) a lot of credit, she had some trouble with the inside pitches and she adjusted to make one count.”
It was a little unknown what this season was going to hold for Vinton County. Although the team graduated just four players from last season, it was what those four provided that had the Vikings wondering could become of their season.
But they quickly saw that they had something in the making after a 9-3 start to the season, including victories over Meigs and Adena.
Starting such a young team ultimately comes with a price, and the Vikings paid struggled down the stretch: finishing 4-6 and ending the season sooner than hoped.
“There’s a lot of little things we don’t do consistently and it keeps us from getting over the hump to be a really good team,” Ward said. “It’s expected though when you start six freshman most of the year. But softball is still softball and at some point, you have to figure it out.”
The Vikings say goodbye to three seniors: Sharp, Stapleton and Jakelyn Brown.
“They are three kids that you can’t help but like,” Ward said. “They’re great teammates and they’re very focused, which can be hard as senior with a number of distractions that come at this time of year. They were great leaders who made the young kids feel comfortable. Those three are the type of kids you hope the young players turn into.”
While saying goodbye to those three seniors isn’t going to be easy, the show continues to go on. And for Vinton County, it has a lot to look forward to next season.
Following this year of experience, seven starters and 13 of its 16 players return to the diamond next season with higher expectations.
While it’s up to the players to produce on the field, according to Ward, its up to him and coaching staff to get the Vikings where he envisions them to be in 2020.
“We have to be a lot more clear with our expectations and our skill level about where we want to go,” Ward said. “I have to improve on how I handle that transition to our underclassmen. There’s more pressure you put on yourself when you want to be successful and a lot of that is on our coaching to continue developing the kids and helping them succeed.”