There might have been as many reasons to think they wouldn’t be winning sectionals this spring as evidence to show they would, but high school softball teams from South Vermillion, Linton and Clay City will be playing one-game regionals Tuesday with the chance to keep defying the odds.
South Vermillion gets a home game, the Wildcats hosting Tri-West at 7 p.m. that day, while Linton will be on the road against top-ranked Evansville Mater Dei and Clay City will be at Indianapolis Lutheran for a 6 p.m. game.
Starting time for the Linton-Mater Dei game is currently set for 8 p.m. EDT — 7 in Evansville — but coach Ruan Fougerousse of the Miners said her school had requested a 7:30 p.m. EDT first pitch because of postgame travel involved.
Four different teams shared Western Indiana Conference softball championships the past two seasons, and South Vermillion hasn’t been one of them. But in a sectional dominated by WIC teams, the Wildcats nearly got out a year ago and got the job done last week with a dramatic comeback win over Owen Valley and a championship-game victory over Brown County.
Coach Mike Andrew’s team goes into Tuesday’s game with a 16-8 record and an opponent unknown to them until this week.
“We have no common opponents,” Andrew said when asked about the visiting Bruins. “I’ve heard they’re a big team with a lot of power.”
That doesn’t worry the Wildcat coach much, because his team’s strength is the pitching of senior Daphne Dunegan and sophomore Taylor Andrew.
“Our team [earned run average] is less than one,” coach Andrew pointed out, “so if we field the ball, we can stay in the game with anybody.”
Andrew isn’t sure of which pitcher will start on Tuesday, and the starter doesn’t always finish. In the championship game of the Edgewood Sectional, Dunegan pitched less than an inning before being replaced by the coach’s daughter. Dunegan didn’t pout, and had the key hit in the bottom of the first inning as South Vermillion overcame an early deficit.
“They’re very supportive of each other,” Andrew said of his pitchers, who are also probably his best two hitters. Dunegan plays third base when she isn’t in the circle, and Taylor Andrew is often in left field.
Although he expects his pitching to keep the game in reach, “the key to winning is hitting,” coach Andrew said. Also contributing to the Wildcats in that role are sophomore Lauren Hixon and freshman Ariel Spivey. Neither team is ranked, although the Bruins got one vote in the last 3A coaches’ poll.
Fougerousse doesn’t have to look far down the 2A rankings to find Mater Dei, however. The Wildcats have lost only twice — just once since playing at Terre Haute South’s Braves Bash at the start of the season — and are ranked No. 1.
Linton isn’t ranked, but the Miners seem to be peaking at the right time. They are 15-5 overall and lost regular-season games in 11 innings, 12 innings and 13 innings.
“We’re a pretty good defensive team and have pretty good pitching,” Fougerousse said, “but we struggled at the plate a little bit. Toward postseason, we put our offense in gear.”
Two of the extra-inning losses were conference games against potential sectional opponents, but Linton avenged one of them by winning the championship game — also in extra innings — over North Central.
Third baseman Joie Gadberry, a speedster batting nearly .600 who is headed to Wabash Valley College, is the Miners’ lone senior and the last link to their back-to-back state runner-up teams.
The reason the Miners are peaking, though, is how young they are — and one of the youngsters, freshman Shelsie Meurer, has only recently returned from an injury. Other key players are freshman Libbi Fougerousse — the coach’s cousin and daughter of Miner baseball coach Matt Fougerousse — and sophomore pitcher Brei Followell. Libbi Fougerousse had a game-winning homer in the sectional championship game.
Clay City was expected to be a strong team at the beginning of the year, but the Eels have compiled their 21-8 record despite missing their best player — senior Madison Booe, coming to Indiana State as an invited walk-on — for all but the first five games of the season.
The rest of the young lineup — third baseman Brianna Price is the only other senior — wasn’t deterred, however, coach Jason Sinders noted happily.
Two freshmen, outfielder Raven Allender and second baseman Alyssa Yocom, have developed into the team’s leading hitters, Sinders noted. Big contributions offensively and defensively also come from a pair of sophomores, quick center fielder Emmie Kittle and shortstop Maria Walton. Allender also adds pitching depth behind junior Whitney Jeffers, who had a sectional no-hitter.
“We’re a good hitting team, we’re good defensively and we have pitching depth,” Sinders summarized.
As far as further postseason play is concerned — the last Class A poll ranked Lutheran ninth and Clay City 10th — Sinders said, “If we’re ready to play, we can compete. It’s doable.”
Winners of Tuesday games play in semistate tournaments on Saturday. The winner at South Vermillion plays either South Dearborn or Charlestown at 11 a.m. at Jasper, the winner at Mater Dei would go to Forest Park for a 1 p.m. game against Switzerland County or Providence and the winner from Indianapolis Lutheran would play at 11 a.m. at North Daviess against either Springs Valley or Lanesville.
IHSAA Softball Regionals
• Tri-West at South Vermillion, 7 p.m.
• Linton at Evansville Mater Dei, 8 p.m.*
• Clay City at Indianapolis Lutheran, 6 p.m.
* — Linton has requested a switch to a 7:30 p.m. start.