By Chris Chaney
A full schedule, a quick-draining field and stellar young pitching has the Williamsburg Lady Wildcats playing often, and more importantly, well.
At 16-1 on the season and 4-0 in the Southern Buckeye Conference’s National Division, the Lady Wildcats have turned some heads, caused others to do a double-take all the while keeping those sporting the blue, white and red holding their chins high.
“A huge part of any team — baseball or softball — is who is on the pitching rubber,” Williamsburg athletic director and head softball coach Rick Healey said. “I have a freshman, Kacey Smith, who is throwing really well right now. It makes it easier to win when your pitcher is not giving up any runs. Our second pitcher, Allie Graybill, is throwing really well, too. So, between the two of them, that really helps.”
Healey expanded upon Smith’s exceptional season to this point, highlighting some impressive stats and outings that she has had, which include a one-hitter against Clermont Northeastern on April 14 and a five-inning, 15-strikeout performance against Ripley-Union on April 19.
Smith leads the city with 12 wins and is among the tops in the district in innings pitched (72.0), strikeouts (143) and earned run average (0.39).
While Smith keeps the defensive side of the game on lock, Healey said that the confidence emanating from the pitching circle has infiltrated the Lady Wildcats’ bats.
“I’ve got a sophomore catcher, Morgan Gullett, who is near the top of the city in RBI (29), home runs and slugging,” Healey said. “She’s just hitting the ball really well. The same thing goes for Kennedy Clark. She’s hitting the ball extremely well.
“Kelsey Burnett, senior shortstop, is leading the team, hitting the ball well. She hit home runs against Batavia and McNick — back-to-back games leaving the yard.”
Healey ran through nearly every name on his roster, lauding their abilities and the clip at which they were hitting, headed up by Shelby Shaffer (.545) and Hannah Klein (.425).
“We’ve just got a good chemistry,” Healey said of his squad. “We just need to continue to get better because once you decide you’re good enough, you get complacent. We’re doing our best to stay away from that, but overall, I’m pleased. We just got to keep working.”
If complacency is the enemy of progress, Healey did his best to make sure that his team has a different challenge awaiting them nearly every day on the field. Using his position as athletic director to fill as many dates as possible, Williamsburg has played nearly twice as many games as any other team in the area. For some frame of reference, with the exception of Felicity-Franklin, no two teams in the SBC-National combined have played as many games as the Lady Wildcats.
Part of that phenomenon is credit to Healey and his diligent work on the Williamsburg fields over the years.
“We have a field that over the past 14 years, we’ve slowly added things to that give us complete drainage,” Healey explained. “I’ve trenched it and put a four-inch drainage pipe all around the outfield and infield, so that’s why we get to play. Our field could just flat get rained on and if it quits raining by 10 o’clock in the morning, we can play by 4:30 p.m.”
Although no rain is forecasted for the remainder of this week, the biggest showdown of the season is slated for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 24 when the Lady Wildcats host the Felicity-Franklin Lady Cardinals, the other undefeated team in the SBC-National.
“The Southern Buckeye Conference year-in and year-out, you can’t take games off or else you’ll get beat,” Healey said. “We’re looking forward to playing Felicity, but I’ve told the girls that we have to take it one game at a time. We have games against New Richmond, (Bethel-Tate) and Clermont Northeastern before that.
“We’re taking that approach to (each game). Rob Wear, (Felicity’s head coach), is a great coach and he’s gotten Felicity to where it is today, so I have the utmost respect for him and I’ll do everything I can to let our kids know that we better come out ready to play or we’ll go home empty-handed.”
One time through the league has Burg and Felicity head and shoulders ahead of their competition with Blanchester, Batavia, Clermont Northeastern and Georgetown all beating up on one another below them on the standings table.
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the conference is still very much in the balance, although Williamsburg and Felicity can go a long way in shoring up a league title when they play each other twice in the next six days.
“We just need to set small personal goals and revisit them,” Healey said of what his team needs to do to finish the year out strong. “If all 12 girls are setting their sights on doing their very best and giving everything they have, we should end up on top.”