DANVILLE — The Danville Blue Devils opened up the Division IV Central District Tournament in a big way on Monday afternoon. Both the baseball and softball teams picked up run-rule victories on their home fields.
The softball squad had no trouble in dispatching the Marion Catholic Fighting Irish, 25-0, while the baseball team knocked off the Millersport Lakers, 16-2. Both games ended in five innings.
“I have to credit this to the play of our five seniors,” said Danville baseball coach Brian Bratton. “They really came out and played hard. They really wanted to go out with a win (on their home field), and get momentum heading into the tournament. That’s what we’ve talked about for the past two weeks, and really stressed all year. For us being a small school in a bigger league, we knew we would not win a lot of games, but we used that as a building block for the tournament.”
The No. 1-seeded Danville softball squad (18-7) was facing a Marion Catholic team that was seeded last in Division IV and had only played six games this season. It showed as Danville jumped ahead, 8-0, after one and 17-0 after two innings.
In the first inning, six hitters reached safely before the Irish recorded an out, and all scored. Danville senior Hannah Matheny had the big bat, clubbing a home run and a triple in the inning. She finished the game 5-for-5 with three triples, a home run and eight RBI. Fellow senior Aubrey Hazen also had a triple in the inning, driving in two.
Catcher Kaliegh Conner got Danville going with a single to lead off the second inning, and after a walk to Darci Lauderbaugh, Conner scored on an error by Marion Catholic. That was just the start as Darci Lauderbaugh, Hazen, Kara Mills, Ashley Townsend, Jessica Blubaugh, Matheny, Morgan Lauderbaugh and Conner again all scored.
“We struggled at the beginning of the season, and confidence is a big key for us,” said Conner. “We hit the ball well. This wasn’t a pretty win, but it gives us a lot of confidence. ... In a way, this helps us. We will see faster pitchers, but we know we can hit the ball.”
With such a big lead, Danville coach Maryellyn Matheny had the opportunity to empty her bench and get playing time for everyone on the roster. Megan Iverson, Schae Frazee and Dani Durbin didn’t miss a beat, collecting RBI singles in the fourth inning to help push the lead out to 25-0. Also, team manager John Hardesty played a pivotal role in cheering on the Blue Devils.
“At this level, it isn’t about playing people; it is about winning, but it was nice that everyone could get in today,” Conner said.
Hannah Matheny started the game on the mound and set Marion Catholic down in order over the three innings she pitched. She struck out six of the nine batters she faced. Morgan Lauderbaugh pitched the final two innings, and the Irish tried to get on the board, but failed.
Two Danville errors in the fourth inning gave Marion Catholic base runners, but Lauderbaugh ended the threat with a strikeout. Then, in the fifth, she gave up a leadoff double, but struck out the next two to quiet the threat. The game ended with a pop-up to Iverson at first.
“This definitely helps our confidence,” said Matheny. “It seemed like it took forever, though. ... I think I did OK (pitching). I didn’t have a lot of movement on my pitches. I just threw straight fastballs, but I worked on my location.”
The Danville baseball team (4-19) didn’t waste any time against Millersport (1-20) either. The Blue Devils scored 10 times in the first inning, pounding out seven hits — five singles and two doubles. The two-run doubles, hit by Nathan Strouse and Ryan Strouse, broke the game open, as did a two-run single by Brandon Crawford. Ryan Bell and Daniel Mickley also had RBI singles in the inning, which ended on a fielder’s choice.
“I’m extremely happy (with our start),” said Bratton. “Nothing against Millersport; that was a good team. They are much better than a 1-win team because they fielded the ball well. We just hit the ball where they weren’t. Our seniors have really worked on that, and our underclassmen grew up.”
Millersport got one run back in the top of the second after a double by Gary Monroe. A wild pitch by Mickley moved him to third, and he scored on a single by Chris Stotts.
Danville took that run back in the bottom of the second inning after Crawford led off with a single. Another single by Bell and a fielder’s choice moved Crawford to third, and he later scored on a sacrifice fly by Nathan Strouse to make it a 11-1 game.
The Blue Devils tacked on four more runs in the bottom of the third inning, and then traded runs with Millersport in the fourth inning for the final 16-2 win.
Mickley pitched three innings, allowing one earned run on two hits and struck out three. Davis Culler pitched the final two innings, giving up one unearned run on one hit, and struck out four.
(Mickley) is a freshman, but he’s played above a freshman level all year,” said Bratton. “At the beginning of the year, he started out great, and has built up confidence. He’s able to throw strikes, keep hitters off balance and be a real anchor for the young pitching staff that we have.”
Both teams will advance to the sectional finals on Wednesday. The Danville softball team will host Madison Christian, a 10-5 winner over Gahanna Christian on Monday, at 5:30 p.m. The Danville baseball squad will travel to No. 3 seed Grove City Christian for a 5 p.m. start.
“I don’t know a lot about (Grove City Christian),” Bratton said. “They play in a Christian league, and they have a great record. Everybody I’ve talked to said they hit the ball extremely well. One thing for us is we are going to have to play great defense. That’s what is going to win us tournament games, along with pitching. If we continue to do what we’ve done the last few games, we have a good shot at winning.”