CHILLICOTHE — With the loss of perhaps the most talented senior class in program history to graduation and the retirement of long-time coach Fred Redman, who guided the 2014 softball team to Westfall’s only state championship in school history, it would have been easy to chalk up 2021 as a rebuilding season for the Mustangs.
Led by the senior class of Maddie Mullins, Kylee Henry and Leah Ragland, along with the emergence of six new faces to help them out, the Mustangs remained one of the top programs in the Southeast District, winning 24 games, their fourth-straight outright Scioto Valley Conference title and their first district crown since 2017.
“I know those seniors and our other girls wanted to carry on the legacy that Coach Redman and all of the past players left here at Westfall and (they did that) this season,” first-year coach Lance Heath said. “It’s been a pleasure to coach this senior class.
“Their leadership. Their work ethic. They just have the whole package. I’ve probably learned more from coaching them this season than they’ve probably learned from me.”
The Mustangs found themselves locked in a pitchers’ duel on Thursday between breakout sophomore Olivia Dumm and Ironton junior Keegan Moore, where it seemed as though one pitch could make all the difference.
Kiahndra Martin proved that, unfortunately for Westfall, by lining a two-run homer over the center field fence in the fourth inning, providing the difference for the Fighting Tigers to defeat the Mustangs 2-0 in a Division III regional semifinal held at Unioto High School.
“I told the girls they could walk out of the dugout with their heads held high,” Heath said. “That’s all I could say to them. We had one heck of a season and one heck of a tournament run.
“That’s especially true in the situation we were in. We returned three seniors and nobody expected us to make it this far. But we kept competing and got to where we are.”
Ironton (27-4) advances to a regional final on Saturday against Ohio River rival Wheelersburg (24-1) at Unioto. First pitch is slated for noon.
Dumm checked the Fighting Tigers to just a pair of hits and struck out nine batters.
“The kid is a competitor. All she wants to do is compete,” Heath said. “We put her in big games and in big situations and she just left one over the plate. She made one bad pitch.”
Moore, an Ohio University commit, held the Mustangs to three hits and struck out 17 batters.
“(Moore) threw the ball well,” Heath said. “She throws hard and she does a great job locating. There’s a reason she’s going to play in Division I.”
The Mustangs (24-6) had their best chance to score in the second when Henry legged out the first of her two infield singles. The senior speedster stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball with only one out. Moore kept the Mustangs off the scoreboard by striking out back-to-back batters.
The only other Mustang to reach scoring position came in the sixth when Delana Landefeld doubled to the left field gap with two outs, but Moore left her stranded right there.
Westfall is projected to return six starters for 2022 – Abbie Bickenheuser, Makayla Cook, Ava Heath, Madison Kearney, Dumm and Landefeld.
“We’re going to go back to work and work harder than we did this year,” Heath said. “We’ll come back stronger and we’ll compete further.
“Obviously, there’s a legacy left behind. These three seniors have done nothing but help these younger girls out. The (younger) girls now know what it takes to get to this point and (hopefully next year we’ll) win this ballgame.”
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