By Brad Morris
WILLIAMSPORT — While the Westfall softball team entered the season with a new coaching staff and six new starters, coach Lance Heath could still feel pressure from the past on his young team.
“Early in the season we were in a prove and protect mode with that 31-game winning streak (in the Scioto Valley Conference),” he said. “When we lost to Huntington last month, that kinda allowed us to take a step back and work on creating our own identity as a team.”
Except for an 8-6 extra-inning loss to Unioto in mid-April, the Mustangs have been nearly perfect in the SVC since the conference-opening loss to Huntington.
Westfall avenged losses to Huntington (8-0) and Unioto (11-4) during the second round of conference play and picked up their seventh consecutive SVC win on Monday via an 8-1 verdict over visiting Zane Trace.
The win allowed the Mustangs (20-5, 11-2) to clinch at least a share of their fourth consecutive conference championship and a victory on Wednesday over Adena (14-5, 8-3) would allow them to claim the honor outright.
Senior catcher Maddie Mullins is one of three starters remaining from the last conference championship team in 2019. She discussed taking the mantle from last year’s senior class who didn’t have a season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had a great group of seniors last season and we knew that we were going to have a big season, but that never happened due to the pandemic,” she said. “Kylee (Henry), Leah (Ragland) and I knew it was going to be up to us to take that mantle from those girls and try to be good leaders for all the young players we have on this team.
“With younger players, they can be unsure of themselves since they are playing varsity for the first time, so you have to try and keep an even keel through the highs and lows and reassure them sometimes that if they keep working hard that everything is going to be fine in the end.”
Heath noted how the seniors started to make an impact on the first-year varsity players when preseason workouts commenced back in late February.
“Our seniors made an immediate impact by their work ethic and showing our younger players how hard they needed to work if they wanted to be successful,” he said. “They got things going and that allowed us to get off to a good start and get some momentum.”
That momentum carried over into a seven-run, sixth inning on Monday that allowed the Mustangs to blow open a 1-1 game. Westfall sent 11 batters to the plate in the inning, collected eight hits and took advantage of three Zane Trace errors.
Olivia Dumm and Mullins opened the home sixth with back-to-back singles to left. Kylee Henry then put down a bunt and would have beat the throw that sailed past the first baseman. Dumm scored on the error to give the Mustangs a 2-1 lead.
“We’re the type of team that has success once we start stringing together a few hits on offense,” Mullins said. “We feed off the success each other is having.
“Olivia and I got the inning going and then we have some good bunters like Kylee and Leah who can put pressure on the defense to make plays. Everyone played a role in that inning.”
The Pioneers (14-10, 6-7) appeared to record the first out of the inning on a strikeout, but an errant throw to first on a dropped third strike allowed Makayla Cook to reach and courtesy runner Emma Henry to score.
In another nod to the past, the Mustangs again played small ball with Leah Ragland reaching on a bunt single that drove in Kylee Henry to make it 4-1.
Maddison Kearney followed with a two-run double to right that allowed Cook and Ragland scamper home.
After a ground out, the Pioneers threw to third on the play to try and retire Kearney attempting to advance, but the errant throw allowed her to score.
Following a single from Delana Landefeld and a double courtesy of Abbie Bickenheuser, Dumm reached on an infield single off the pitcher that drove in Landefeld with the final run of the inning.
Dumm retired the Pioneers in order to put the finishing touch on the Mustangs’ 20th win of the season.
Except for a solo home run hit by Zane Trace’s Lexi Scott in the sixth, Dumm was able to keep the Pioneers off balance for the rest of the evening. The Westfall sophomore right-hander allowed five hits and struck out 13 batters to earn the win.
“Olivia works hard on her delivery and being consistent with every pitch that she throws,” Mullins said. “She has good movement and spin on her pitches and except (for the Scott home run), she was in a groove out there.”
Mullins reflected on what it means for the senior class to be part of three — and what would have likely been four if a season occurred last year — conference championships.
“We have new coaches and a lot of new players this season, but Westfall softball is still Westfall softball,” she said. “There is a standard around here and continuing the streak of SVC titles is something special for our senior class.
“All we’ve known is winning the SVC.”
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