By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — Over the years, we at the Tribune-Star have recognized the ability of St. Mary-of-the-Woods College to find softball talent right here in the Wabash Valley.
Not surprisingly, 2008 is no exception to this tradition.
Three of its players are from Vigo County high schools — senior Jessica Ketner (Terre Haute South) and juniors Ashley Sankey (South) and Kea Silcock (West Vigo).
Silcock, a left fielder, leads the team in batting with a .402 average.
“Kea’s finding ways to get on base,” noted Woods coach Gary Rodgers, wrapping up his second season at the helm. “She uses the bunt and she’s learned to perfect that slap over the third baseman’s head… She’s improved tremendously over last year — all around.”
He also offered words of praise for Sankey, a catcher who spent two seasons at Lincoln Trail College before coming to The Woods last fall, and Ketner, a third baseman.
“Ashley’s only had two passed balls this year,” Rodgers pointed out. “She’s only had one person steal on her. She’s a very good defensive catcher. On offense, she’ll surprise you sometimes. She can step up there and hit the gap.
“With Jessica Ketner, there’s probably not another kid on the team who plays with as much heart and dedication. Defensively, she cuts a lot of balls off between her and the pitcher. She’s played hurt a few games but wouldn’t come out of the lineup. Offensively, Jess is coming around with the bat at the right time for us.”
Also contributing to the Pomeroys are senior Ashley Loomis (Riverton Parke), juniors Casey Simmons (Linton) and Whitney Haase (Paris, Ill.), sophomore Amanda McGlone (Robinson, Ill.) and freshmen Chelsea Baker (Shakamak) and Chelsee Gerber (Clay City).
That’s nine out of 15 players on the roster — 60 percent — from the Wabash Valley.
As usual around this time of year, The Woods is preparing to compete in the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) national tournament.
This season, it’s in Decatur, Ill. It’ll start today with pool play (eight teams divided into two brackets) and continue Saturday with a double-elimination tournament for the top four teams until a champion is crowned.
“We’re going to put our best game on the field and see where that gets us,” Rodgers said of his 28-14-1 Pomeroys, who captured the USCAA title last season.
Loomis is among The Woods’ statistical leaders again, compiling a 17-6 pitching record with two saves while batting .273 with a team-high five home runs and 38 runs batted in.
Ketner, Sankey and Silcock are glad they’re on the same team with Loomis instead of batting against her. “From a catcher’s perspective, she’s very easy to work with,” Sankey noted.
Actually, they like being on the same team with all of the “Valley girls,” even though most of them weren’t teammates in high school.
“I like playing with the local players,” said Ketner, who graduated with a degree in elementary education last Saturday. “I’ve known ’em so long and it’s nice to have that support [from so many family members and friends] locally. The local talent that they get here is awesome.”
“I like getting to play with these girls,” Silcock echoed. “I remember most of them from high school and they were good.”
This isn’t the first time they’ve been teammates, however. Ketner and Silcock were members of the Indiana Stars travel team and they were joined by Sankey on the Ketner & Sons Electric/Wolfe’s Auto Auction travel team another time.
Looking to next year, Rodgers said he’s received commitments from three Valley high school players to continue their softball careers with The Woods.
So even after Ketner and Loomis finish their careers this weekend, the Valley tradition will continue.
“It’s worked out well for me here with the local kids,” Rodgers acknowledged. “We get a lot of support from our local parents. They love to follow their kids. They go to away games with us. They go to every home game.
“I like our local kids. You know that they’ve gone through every phase of softball growing up. They’ve been on good travel teams. They’ve had good coaching.”
But for now, all of their attention is directed at the USCAA tournament.
“We just need to stay mentally focused and get our bats going,” Sankey said.
“We’ve had a long break [from games],” Ketner mentioned. “So we need to go in focused and play hard and take it one inning at a time.”
“We need to go in and play as a team and be supportive of each other,” Silcock added.
Weather permitting, the championship game will start at about 8 p.m. EDT Saturday, with an “if necessary” game to possibly follow at 10.
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.