Clay softball coach Brenda Radabaugh had a good feeling about her team approaching the 2006 season, but there were a still a few questions that needed to be answered.
Radabaugh noted early on that her young Eagles with just two returning starters and one senior were learning in leaps and bounds.
With sectional tournament play set to begin Saturday, the Eagles (12-4) have taken flight to the top of the City League with a 5-0 record.
That league mark includes wins over preseason co-favorites St. Ursula and Notre Dame.
St. Ursula, the 2002 and 2003 league champion, was the 2004 Division I state champion and reached the state semifinals last year. Notre Dame has won the past two CL crowns.
That impressive recent history failed to rattle Clay, or one of the Eagles two new sophomore starting pitchers. With Brandy Holmes on the mound, Clay opened league play on April 4 with a 6-3 win over SUA. She also pitched the Eagles to a 3-2 win over NDA on April 11.
I think it s built our confidence, Radabaugh said. We know, even if we re down in a game, we can come back and win.
We ve gotten much better defensively. Early in the season, if we made an error, it could have a domino effect. Now, if one person makes an error, another person will pick them up by coming up with a great play to get out of the inning.
Clay has a suspended CL game (tied 4-4) to complete at Bowsher. The losses have come against Northern Lakes League powers Springfield and Anthony Wayne, and against Marion Harding and Defiance.
Holmes and fellow starter and classmate Lauren Frank have admirably filled the void left by the graduation of the tandem of All-City first-teamer Ashley Henney and CL second-teamer Kadie Ondrus.
Holmes is 8-1 with 75 strikeouts and an 0.82 ERA over 681/3 innings. She pitched a perfect game in a 10-0 win over Rogers. She is batting .333.
I felt if I just came out and did my job my team would respect that, Holmes said.
The whole team has pretty much done the job. That s how we produce wins.
Frank is 4-3 with 47 strikeouts and a 1.71 ERA through 45 innings.
Both of them have a lot of [pitching] experience, Radabaugh said. They ve been playing travel ball for a number of years.
Both have great control, decent speed and they mix up their pitches pretty well. That s definitely a key having two solid pitchers.
Clay is led by junior captain and third-year starter Mollie Berry, an All-City center fielder who has also filled in seven games at shortstop this season.
It really shows our team s potential and gives us a lot of confidence knowing we have those games behind us, Berry said. That gives us more momentum going into the tournament.
Berry leads in batting average at .433 (26 for 60) with team highs of 19 runs scored and eight stolen bases.
Mollie is a strong athlete, Radabaugh said. She s very quick and has a good arm. Her strength is definitely in the outfield. Not many balls fall in out there. Her speed makes her one of the top players in the league.
She can drag [bunt] for a hit, she can slap for a hit and she can swing away. She can do it all.
The other returning starter is junior left fielder Dana Romstadt, who is hitting .379 (22 for 58) with 18 runs scored, a team-best 17 RBIs and the Eagles lone home run.
Radabaugh hopes the team confidence will keep the Eagles sharp for tournament play, beginning Saturday at 11 a.m. against Findlay at Bowling Green, as well as for remaining CL games.
The kids have gone into the game with confidence, believing that we can win it, Radabaugh said. If we focus on good defense, I think we can beat just about anybody in the area. We re peaking at the right time.
Clay lost to Perrysburg in a D-I district final last year.
We ve got a really young team and it s nice to see how we ve all come together, Romstadt said. We re all strong and our personalities seem to come together.
The Eagles have gotten additional hitting support from senior third baseman Alisha Yeager (.306), junior first baseman Alex Shellhammer (.289), sophomore shortstop Amanda Watson (.286) and junior second baseman Kristina Rendle (.259).
Contact Steve Junga at:email@example.com 419-724-6461.