State Bound: Lady Hawks taking another shot at a state championship
BENTON -- Getting to the Class 2 final four has never been a problem for the Kelly Lady Hawks.
It's something they've done six times in the past nine years alone.
Taking that final step to a state championship, however, is something the Lady Hawks haven't been able to accomplish since 2004.
After another dominant postseason Kelly once again have a championship in their grasp as they head to Springfield this Friday for this year's final four.
"We're very excited and glad that we're all heading in that direction," Kelly head coach Rhonda Ratledge said. "We're familiar with and ready to take it one game at a time. We're looking forward to hopefully being in that championship game.
"That's our goal."
So far this postseason the Lady Hawks have blown through the competition by a combined 40-1 run differential through four games.
They saved their best game for the quarterfinals when they hammered visiting Willow Springs 20-0 in five innings. It was Kelly's biggest offensive day of the season and it helped the Lady Hawks capture their 10th district in the last 11 years.
The biggest key to this year's title hopes will rely on how Kelly comes out Friday morning against South Callaway (23-4) in the semifinals. Last year's team found out the hard way how a shaky start can ruin championship dreams.
Much like this year, Kelly cruised to the final four last season before their fateful semifinal matchup with Brookefield. Struggling both at the plate and at the mound, the Lady Hawks suffered a 7-0 loss that forced them into the third place game.
Kelly was able to regroup later that afternoon and take down Palmyra 5-4 to grab third place in Class 2.
"Last year in the first game we just didn't have a good showing," Ratledge said. "We weren't showing the true Kelly girls that we know that we can be. We came back in the third place game with some revenge and played 10 times better.
"That's kind of haunting us and we know what that felt like that year. So we definitely know that we're not going to have a bad showing thew first game."
Though Ratledge said they don't know much about their South Callaway yet, the Lady Hawks look to have an edge from a numbers perspective. In their four games so far in the playoffs South Callaway had outscored their opponents 36-11, including a 15-8 win over Highland in the quarterfinals.
A large part of the Lady Hawks fortunes will likely rest on the performance of sophomore pitcher Alexis Dock, who hold a 12-3 record and will likely get the ball in both contest this weekend.
In her 22 innings on the mound since the regular season ended Dock has allowed only one run and carries a sub-1.50 earned-run-average into the final four.
Ratledge noted a big change I her pitcher since the last time they took the field at the Killian Softball Complex.
"She has locked in and it's been a really nice feeling," Ratledge said. "She feels good on the mound and zoned in. She a tough cookie on the mound and at the plate."
Alongside Dock, junior Kristi Brucker is more than capable of taking the circle if need be. She held a 1.69 ERA going into the quarterfinals, where she struck out six batters in two innings.
She holds a 7-4 record on the year with a total of 69 strikeouts.
One advantage this year's team will have over lasts' is a familiarity with the stadium. Though a handful of Kelly players were around from the Lady Hawks' 2010 final four run, most of the team was next to the stage. This year all but two freshmen have made the trip at least one with lone senior Jade Rampley making her third appearance in the final four.
"Everybody knows what that stadium looks like now and they know what it feels like," Ratledge said. "We just have the two little freshman who it's going to be a surprise for them, but other than that everybody should be comfortable with it."
When Kelly takes the field on Friday it will mark the 15th time in school history the Lady Hawks have graced the final four while also serving as their seventh trip in the past 10 seasons.
They'll play South Callaway at 10 a.m. at the Killian Softball Complex in Springfield Complex on Friday. If they win they'll face the winner of Marionville (23-3) and Bishop LeBlond (24-3) on Saturday at a 10 a.m.
A loss would leave the Lady Hawks back in action later on Friday when they'd play for third-place at 1 p.m.
"I feel like we're stronger (than last year) all the way up and down the lineup as far as hitting," Ratledge said. "Dock has gotten stronger on the mound and we have played extremely well this postseason. I'm definitely looking forward to that first game."