By Brad Morris
CARROLL — Facing Ohio State pitching signee Lexi Paulsen is not an easy assignment, but Teays Valley senior Kadance Fraley credited a change in mindset on Thursday for leading to a different result.
“When I came out and faced Lexi for the first time (on April 6), it was kinda difficult because I kept getting jammed by her,” she said. “I came out (on Thursday) with a different mindset and wanted to do something for the team, so I came out and performed in stressful situations.”
Fraley contributed an RBI double and solo home run to help ignite the Vikings for a come-from-behind 4-2 win over host Bloom-Carroll in a Mid-State League Buckeye Division game.
The victory allowed the Vikings (21-1, 14-0) to earn the outright league championship over the Bulldogs (14-6, 12-2). Teays Valley rallied from a 7-1 deficit to win the first meeting last month 8-7 in 10 innings and overcame a 2-0 deficit to sweep the season series between the two tradition-rich programs.
“We talk about playing one pitch at a time, but you need the girls to buy into that approach,” Teays Valley coach Derrick Hastler said. “Our girls have bought in, and they stayed within themselves.
“A 2-0 deficit doesn’t sound like much but when you are facing a pitcher as talented as Lexi, it’s a bigger deficit than usual because runs are going to be harder to come by. I was pleased with the way our girls remained focused, disciplined and locked in and they eventually figured it out and strung together some good at-bats.”
The bottom third of the lineup had three of the Vikings’ nine hits and drove in all four runs.
“We reshuffled our lineup midway through the season with the idea of having three sets of three,” Hastler revealed. “Each set has someone who gets on base a lot, someone with a high-contact percentage and, overall, girls who can come up with big hits.
“It’s a credit to our girls, because everyone feels confident that they can be the player who gets the big hit. They believe in themselves and each other.”
The game resumed scoreless in the top of the second from when play was suspended on April 25 due to inclement weather and was played with one umpire behind home plate.
Paulsen was in a groove early, striking out the side in the second and five of the first six batters she faced on a cool, early May evening.
The Vikings were able to wiggle out of a second-inning jam with runners on second and third with no outs and eventually stranded the bases loaded. They weren’t quite as fortunate in the third.
Bloom-Carroll loaded the bases with two outs and took advantage of an error on a long fly ball hit to left center off the bat of Claire Whitcraft to take a 2-0 lead.
Kennedy Cauger gave the Vikings some offensive life in the fifth when she opened the inning with a single and advanced to third when the ball went by the left fielder.
Paulsen seemed on the verge of getting out of the threat by striking out the next two batters, but Fraley battled back from a 1-2 count to smack a full-count pitch into center for a double that scored Cauger and put the Vikings on the scoreboard.
“I was excited as soon as I hit that double,” Fraley said. “I hit it well and that was something we needed to start our rally.”
The Vikings went back to work in the sixth. Alyssa Brown legged out an infield single and Morgan Cantrell reached on a bunt single with one out. The throw to first on Cantrell’s bunt got away, allowing the runners to move up to second and third.
Following a strikeout, Michelle Brumfield jumped on the first pitch she saw and singled to center to drive in both runners. Brumfield took second on the throw to home plate.
“I was really struggling before (Brumfield struck out in her first two at-bats) and it was a little in my head,” Brumfield said. “I went up there in the sixth and took a different approach.
“I told myself there was no pressure and I just swung, and it happened. I was clapping my hands together before I got to first base. My hands hurt because I was clapping so hard.”
Fraley tacked on an insurance run to lead off the seventh on a towering homer over the left field fence.
“I knew I was getting close, so I waited on the ball a little more and swung as hard as I could and it went,” Fraley said.
After the Bulldogs loaded the bases in the second and again in the third, Teays Valley freshman pitcher Sydney Manring settled into the league championship game.
Manring retired 12 of the next 14 batters she faced, including four by strikeout.
“I just had to settle in and make my pitches,” Manring said. “Our hitting defeintely helped get my pumped up.”
Bloom-Carroll put runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh on an infield single and error. Manring ended the game by coaxing a fly out to center by Alexa Luke.
Manring allowed six hits and two unearned runs to claim the win. She walked three and struck out seven.
“Sydney is a gritty kid who has matured every time she has pitched so far this season,” Hastler said. “She was a little frustrated early on, but she found a way to push through that, settled down and when it mattered the most, she was attacking the zone.”
Fraley went 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored, Brown was 2-for-3 and scored and Helwagen also went 2-for-3 to lead the Vikings.
Following the final out, the Vikings celebrated in the infield, sharing hugs and smiles to celebrate their first league championship since 2019.
“This feels amazing because of how well our team has played so far this season,” Fraley said. “We have a lot of talent from top to bottom with our lineup, our defense has been really great and we have two pitchers we can rely on.
“We work well together and have fun, so I enjoy playing with these girls in my senior year.”
Teays Valley is scheduled to travel to Mason on Saturday for a non-league doubleheader with Lebanon and the host Comets.