Wildcat softball team opens a big sixth inning lead with small ball attack, wins Metro opener

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview senior third baseman Kelsey Day tags out a Southridge baserunner on Monday in Metro League action.

Any catcher who encounters Westview on the base paths better bring a slingshot for an arm and springs in their legs to get out of their stances.

And the defense teaming up with the said backstop better be raring to go and locked in as well.

When the Wildcats get on base, which is often with the way Westview makes contact, it's open season. There are supersonic athletes and track-and-field lookalikes up and down head coach Ronda McKenzie's roster, players such as Reece Martin and Maddie Curaming, who are getting the "go" sign as soon as they get on.

Let them reach first often and it spells for an endless day at the office.

Against Southridge, in Westview's Metro League opener, the Wildcats stole six bases and took the extra bag at every turn when the ball was in play en route to a 10-3 win on Monday at Westview High School. Infield singles, bunt attempts, bloops that turned into extra bases or outright races to home. Westview can beat teams in a lot of ways, but small ball might be its preferred weapon of choice considering its brisk personnel.

"There are a lot of good catchers in Metro, but we have some really fast players," Martin said. "We don't need home runs, triples and doubles all of the time. We just need to chip away because most of our girls can beat (groundballs) out. We're learning how to be smarter on the bags, how to be more aggressive and know when and how to use our speed. But today was a good intro and a good display of our speed."

Southridge fell behind 4-0 in the top of the second after Emma Antich drove in a run with an RBI groundout. Martin raced out an infield single that scored a run with two out and then the UAB signee swiped second. And Taylor Alto followed with a lofting single to left-center that brought home Martin, 3-0. Alto stole second and Kelsey Day snuck an RBI single through the middle.

But Skyhawk senior Hannah Jagow hit a towering two-run double with one out that sliced Westview's lead in half to 4-2 and chased Julia Jordan from the circle. Wrigley Campbell and Haley Barrett each had a hit and reached base twice for Southridge.

"We came out a lot stronger than I expected," Jagow said. "I feel like we played a good first part of the game. We have a lot of new players so we wanted them to come into the game and be as excited to play (Westview) as we were. We stayed up and stayed positive. I think we surprised ourselves with what we can do. Three runs might not seem like a lot to most people, but to us, that's a big deal. I feel like we're going to go into the rest of Metro more confident after this game, even though it was a loss."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge new head coach Christina Archambault and the Skyhawks are 3-7 to begin the spring.

Jagow's single down the third base side brought Southridge within 5-3 in the top half of the fifth. With runners on first and second and two outs, Martin raced down a deep fly ball in the right-center alley to prevent extra bases. But the Skyhawks retired Westview's side in order in the bottom half of the fifth.

"We were really excited at that point," Jagow said. "We were in it. We knew we could do it."

Jagow went three-for-three on the day and drove in all three of Southridge's runs.

"I knew what to expect from (Westview's) pitchers, so I knew what I could do and went in there confident," Jagow said. "It's a big deal for me coming from a team where we don't have a lot of hitting. We've had a couple of rebuilding years in a row, so I feel like I have to do my job at the plate."

However, Westview sophomore pitcher Kendra Hutchinson sat down Southridge in order in the top of the sixth. Hutchinson came into the game in the second inning and allowed just one run the rest of the way. And in the bottom of the sixth, Westview's running game went off as the Wildcats batted around in the lineup and plated five more runs.

"Westview usually has one or two innings where they break it open and I was kind of expecting that," Jagow said. "I was hoping we wouldn't let up, but it happens. We're finally starting to figure it out and it's perfect timing with Metro starting. We're bonding and getting organized. Everyone knows where to go. It's starting to work."

Martin had two hits in the sixth, neither of which left the infield. With Day at the plate, Antich scored on a wild pitch. Then Day inside-outted an opposite way blooper to right to score Martin to make it 7-3.

"I'm not even the fastest on the team. Julia (Jordan) is actually faster, I'll admit it," Martin said with a smile. "That's really helpful in close games, being able to steal bases, take extra bags. Even if we play small ball or use little slap (bunts), it gives us an advantage."

Mia Patino, who pinch ran for Day, scored standing up from third on an Ananya Koneti double to left, 8-3. And Koneti scored by taking the extra bag on a Skyhawk error, 9-3. Martin followed with her second RBI of the evening.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview senior outfielder Reece Martin tracks down a deep fly ball against Southridge.

Martin said she and her fellow seniors such as Koneti, Day and Valeti Fifita are dovetailing their distinct leadership skills and applying them to what's still a fairly fledgling troupe of Wildcats. Some players need a pat on the back. Others require a vigorous pep talk. The seniors are blending their personas with the young players and above all ensuring the team enjoys the game and the experience of playing for Westview before anything else, winning included.

"We have a lot of different personalities," Martin said. "Me and Ananya are the very intense ones. Valeti is probably the most fun person I've ever met. We all have these different ranges of people, so it's really been about bringing the team together. I think all the girls are already really competitive, so it's getting all our personalities to mesh and trying to get (the younger players) to buy into what we're about: the high energy, having fun and having good attitudes to show them why we win."

Southridge has started the season 3-7 under new head coach Christina Archambault, the first female head coach in Skyhawk program history. Archambault coached at Lincoln for a few seasons before taking the Southridge gig.

"It's great having somebody who's relatable," Jagow said. "She understands us more and knows how to coach us more and how to get us to do what she wants. It's nice having her be able to break things down and show us how it's done or what she wants to see by physically demonstrating things."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview sophomore pitcher Kendra Hutchinson shut down Southridge after entering the game in the second inning on Monday.

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