Hawks pack big bats for final four

Friday, October 20, 2006

Kelly takes a .377 team batting average into today's semifinal game against Westran.

Kelly softball coach Rhonda Ratledge has coached the Hawks to five state final fours, two state titles and more than 300 wins.

Ratledge will take what she describes as her best-hitting team into the Class 2 semifinals against Westran today at the Rainbow Softball Complex in Columbia, Mo.

Marion C. Early of Morrisville will play Palmyra in the other semifinal game. The championship is 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The Hawks (25-6) have the top team batting average among the final four teams at .377. Seven players have 20 or more RBIs for the Hawks, and all but one of Kelly's projected starters is hitting better than .300.

"I feel like we're a strong hitting team," Ratledge said. "This is probably a better hitting team than I've ever had. They put the ball in play and move the runners over. Each of them have a lot of RBIs.

Kelly scored fewer than two runs just once all season, a shutout loss to area rival Notre Dame, a Class 3 team. The Hawks have scored fewer than five runs in just eight games and have played in just two one-run games.

"Last year, we won ballgames with bunts," Ratledge said. "This year, it's definitely been hitting."

Freshman second baseman Londyn Backfish leads the team with a .487 average. Senior pitcher Kalie Hughes and sophomore Casey Kern both are hitting better than .400.

Westran's offense is the least impressive statistically with a .273 team batting average and six regulars with averages below .300. Becca Schemmer leads the team with a .395 average, and Kayla Rice is hitting .375 with 19 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.

Hornets starting pitcher Megan Summers has made up for the lack of offense. Summers is undefeated on the mound (19-0) with a 0.20 ERA. She has allowed just three earned runs allowed in 118 innings.

Hughes cannot match Summers in the ERA department -- Hughes has a 1.86 ERA -- but she has struck out more than 140 batters en route to a 19-5 record. This is Hughes' second season as the primary starter for the Hawks.

"She has matured a lot from last year," Ratledge said. "She's always been one to get in there and throw and throw. She's learned how to handle the batter, what to throw."

One thing Hughes has had to improve on is her control. Last year in Kelly's sectional loss to Strafford, Hughes struck out 12 but walked eight batters.

"I've improved a lot. I was probably walking 14 batters a game last year," Hughes said. "Now it's probably about four. Practice, staying after practice, throwing batting practice and summer ball [has helped]."

The bulk of the runs scored against Hughes came against rival Notre Dame. In four losses to Notre Dame -- one of those losses came to the Bulldogs junior varsity team -- Kelly surrendered 32 runs.

Kelly's other losses came against Class 4 schools -- Jackson and Poplar Bluff.

Ratledge said the losses were good for the Hawks.

"As a coach, I don't know if it's good to go the whole season undefeated," she said. "You have to learn from somewhere. Even me as a coach."

The Hawks have the most losses of the remaining teams. In fact, Kelly's six losses is more than the other three teams combined.

Three of the four teams have been to 10 or more final fours. Kelly and Marion C. Early are each making their 10th appearance, while Westran is making its state-high 14th appearance.

Westran and Kelly met in the state finals in 1996 and 1997. In 1996, Westran came out on top 5-4 in eight innings, and Kelly won the second meeting 2-0.

"You don't forget too many of those games," Ratledge said. "Those games were memorable ones."

While this final four group is rich in tradition, the three schools have combined for just seven state titles. Kelly has the most recent title coming in 2004. Three players from that team -- Hughes, Summer Proctor and Brittany Ponder -- are seniors on this year's squad.

Kelly has only made the championship game in three of its previous nine appearances to the final four.

"You've got the pressure to make the final four and now you have the pressure to make the championship," Ratledge said. "Three of the 13 [players] have gone before. So hopefully they remember what it was like to have been there."

Five Kelly players will be taking the field for the final time this weekend. Those players want to go out on top.

"We're excited," senior catcher Summer Proctor said. "We're pumped up because we want it. We're ready. It would be a very excellent way to go out."

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