Cougars try to believe for Ripley
VIENNA – Mary Beth Group doesn’t know a ton about Ripley, Jefferson’s first-round opponent in today’s Class AAA state softball tournament.
What she does know is that this year’s tournament is up for grabs.
With the absence of John Marshall, the defending champion and state’s top-ranked team most of the season, the door has been left open for the remaining teams.
“The favorite didn’t make it, so I think it’s wide open,” Group said.
The seemingly wide-open nature of the tournament doesn’t have Group or her team thinking it’s going to be any easier. The other three teams in the tournament – Ripley, Wheeling Park and Hurricane – are all formidable opponents.
“I think Wheeling Park might be the best team, since they beat John Marshall,” Group said.
No matter who Jefferson is playing, Group has the same philosophy for her team – take of our business and go from there.
“It’s all about who’s going to show up that game and who wants it more. They’re all good teams,” she said.
The Cougars (20-8) are on a pretty good roll at the moment, winners of five straight games. In that stretch, Jefferson has outscored its opponents 26-7, including a 5-0 defeat of Musselman in the regional semifinals.
A big part of that has been the pitching of senior Alexandra Witt, who has a sparkling 12-1 record on the mound.
“If ‘A’ is pitching well, I think we’ll be fine. She pitched in the state tournament as a freshman, so I think the nerves are pretty much gone for her,” Group said. “We’ve saved her for the postseason. We didn’t wear her out in the regular season, but she still got her reps in.”
The key for Jefferson, as it has been all postseason, will be hitting and defense. Both aspects have improved with each game for the Cougars, but Group points to her team’s performance at the plate as the biggest concern.
“It’s a concern that we’re not hitting the ball,” Group said. “Defensively, we need to be solid. We’re not perfect, and we showed that against Buckhannon. We made a few errors, but they didn’t score off those errors. These girls aren’t quick to get down on themselves, so one or two errors aren’t going to hurt us, as long as they don’t score on them.”
Ripley got to the state tournament by beating South Charleston 4-1 in the Class AAA, Region II semifinal and Shady Spring 8-0 in the regional final.
The Cougars will likely see junior pitcher Chelsea Hager, who was solid in the regional final. She gave up four hits and struck out eight batters in the shutout win over Shady Spring.
Hager will face a solid Jefferson lineup that includes the Witt sisters, Alexandra and Jenna, who are hitting .490 and 450, respectively, with 40 hits apiece.
The two teams have two common opponents in Riverside and Hedgesville. Jefferson split its two games with Hedgesville and beat Riverside in the Grand Strand Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The Vikings lost to the Eagles and split against the Warriors.