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Kelly ready for state

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

(Photo)
Kelly softball coach Rhonda Ratledge talks to her team.
BENTON - The Kelly Lady Hawks softball team has qualified for the Class 2 final four and will face the Westran Lady Hornets at 4:30 p.m. on Friday in Columbia at the Rainbow Softball Center-purple field.

Marion C. Early Panthers (27-2) will face the Palmyra Panthers (25-1) in the other Class 2 semifinal. The finals are set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Class 2.

Kelly made the state tournament by winning the district tournament over Crystal City, breezed by Twin Rivers in the sectionals and defeated Fatima in the quarterfinals.

Westran is located in Huntsville, a short drive west of Moberly, in northern Missouri. The Lady Hornets defeated Mark Twain to win their districts, got past Putnam County in sectionals and defeated Hallsville 4-3 in a tight quarterfinal game.

The Lady Hornets have a strong softball tradition under the leadership of head coach Kelly Odneal. In Odneal's 23 years at Westran, the Lady Hornets have won 18 district titles, three state titles in 1987, 1996, and 1999, six second place finishes and finished in third place three separate times. Odneal has a career record of 491-85.

The state title in 1999 is the last time Westran has made the final four. Westran (25-3) is led by senior pitcher Megan Summers who has an undefeated record on the mound going 17-0 with a 0.20 ERA.

Summers has struck out 98 batters in 104 innings of work.

At the plate, junior Kayla Rice leads the Lady Hornets with 22 stolen bases and 19 RBIs. Rice has 27 hits on the season and is second on the team with a .375 batting average.

Sophomore Becca Schemmer leads Westran with 30 hits and a .395 average. Fellow sophomore Cornia DeOrnellis has hit two home runs with 16 RBIs and a .319 average for the Lady Hornets.

The game between Kelly and Westran could be the classic battle of offense verses a solid pitcher and defense.

Facing a schedule that is littered with Class 4 teams, Kelly's team batting average at .377, is over 100 points better than Westran's .277.

The Lady Hawks have a combined total of 297 hits compared to 175 for the Lady Hornets. Kelly as team has driven in 190 runs, while Westran has driven in 113.

Westran has a team ERA of 0.30 led by Summers, while Kelly's team is ERA is 1.98 and the staff is led by Kalie Hughes who had a record of 17-5, 1.86 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 124 innings.

Three current Lady Hawks played significant time on the 2004 state championship team as sophomores. Hughes, Brittany Ponder and Summer Proctor are seniors now and looking to lead Kelly to their third state title in school history.

Hughes played right field in 2004 and has a good feeling about this year's chances.

"It feels great to go back to Columbia," said Hughes who led the team with 27 RBIs and was second on the team with a .425 batting average. "We have worked really hard this year and everybody is looking forward to playing at state. We have been working really hard in practice to be able to accomplish our goals."

Ponder understands that her role this year as a senior is different from two seasons ago.

"It is a little different this time around than when I was a sophomore," said Ponder who led Kelly with 42 stolen bases and batted .396 on the year. "As a senior, you need to lead and set a good example for the younger girls."

Proctor believes team chemistry is a big factor in favor of the Lady Hawks.

"As a sophomore I was really excited about going to state and now that I am a senior, I still have that same excitement," said Proctor who hit .365 with 22 RBIs. "Winning state would be a great way to go out. We have played with each other since T-ball and we get along great together. We have been real close for years now." There is no point in driving four hours just to lose.

Kelly head coach Rhonda Ratledge is keeping her girls in the same routine despite the fact that the final four is around the corner.

The outfielders are going through the usual catching pop flies in practice, while the infielders went through fielding grounders after grounders hit by Ratledge.

"The rain has derailed some of our plans," said Ratledge who in 13 years at Kelly has a 314-76 record.

"We practiced inside on Monday and thankfully we got outside today. We will keep going over the fundamentals like fielding grounders and working on our throws across the field."

Senior Ashley Vetter feels that her team has a quiet confidence heading into the tournament.

"It feels super to have a chance at another state title," said Vetter who drove in 24 runs and hit .310. "We are excited about the trip but we know we have to keep practicing hard and keep our focus."

Kaitlin Vedder, who is a cousin of Ashley, believes Kelly can compete with Westran's top notch pitcher.

"I am so excited, said Vetter, "it is just the best way you can end your senior year to go in the top four. We have faced some tough pitches this year and have held our own. We can handle her (Summers), we will be ready."

The Lady Hawks have a lot of senior leadership but freshman Londyn Backfisch led the team with a .487 batting average.

"I am little nervous but I know my team has got my back," said Backfisch. "All year long my team has helped me out when I have gotten a little down, so I know that they will help me at state."

Some nerves for a state tournament is understandable, but Ratledge believes her team is focused and ready to get going.

"I figured that the girls would be nervous but they don't seem as nervous as I thought," said Ratledge. "The quarterfinal game against Fatima, those girls were nervous as all get out. I think a little bit of nerves is always good. By game time, we will be ready to roll."

Proctor summed up the feeling of the entire team in one sentence.

"There is no point in driving four hours just to lose."