A Final Four team in 2022 with its pitching staff intact and a Miss Softball candidate in the lineup appears to be labeled an underdog in the 2023 postseason. Shelbyville head coach Mark Hensley is fine with that notion.
“I love it,” said Hensley ahead of Monday’s final practice before tonight’s regional championship game. “I don’t want the target on my back. All the pressure is on everybody else. We are probably one of the lowest seeds in (Class) 4A still alive. If we can somehow find a way to squeeze past Mooresville and get down to where there are only eight teams left, I like our chances.”
Unranked Shelbyville (20-8) travels to 4A No. 9 Mooresville (28-3-1) today for a one-game regional championship game at 7 p.m. The Pioneers defeated Shelbyville, 2-1 on May 6 at Shelbyville.
“I don’t think they played their best game and we definitely didn’t play our best game so I am assuming this game may look a lot different than that first one,” said Hensley. “It still may be kind of low scoring but I felt like our energy level wasn’t great when we played them.
“We came out a little flat and gave up a couple of runs. I don’t think they played their best game either. They didn’t look like they were all that excited to play on a Saturday morning either and they had a little bit more in the tank on that particular Saturday.”
The pitching matchup sets up for a low-scoring game. Shelbyville junior Cheyenne Eads is 13-6 this season with a 2.17 earned run average and 187 strikeouts over 122 innings. After giving up two runs in the first inning against the Pioneers she faced just four batters over the minimum over the final six innings.
On Friday, she limited nationally-ranked Columbus North to five hits and two walks in another complete-game performance.
“Nothing was going to keep me from finishing that game,” said Eads, whose six losses this season have come by a combined nine runs. “I was really dead set on staying in that game and getting it done for my team.”
Mooresville will likely counter with junior Zoey Kugelman, 11-0 with a 1.30 ERA. She limited the Golden Bears to five hits and one run on May 6.
“She is not going to blow it past anybody. She reminds me a little bit of the East Central pitcher in that she won’t blow it past you. We don’t have many strikeouts against that type of pitcher but we also don’t seem to square them up very much either,” said Hensley.
The game also features a battle of two of the top shortstops in the state – both signed to Division I programs.
Shelbyville senior Kylee Edwards, a Mississippi State recruit, is hitting .558 with eight doubles, 15 home runs and a team-high 46 runs scored. In three sectional games, she had six hits and two walks and scored six runs.
Mooresville senior Alex Cooper is committed to Indiana University. She is hitting .576 with 11 doubles, 15 home runs and 69 RBIs. In sectional wins over Center Grove (11-5), Bloomington South (10-0) and Martinsville (6-1), Cooper also had six hits, including four home runs, scored six runs and drove in 10 runs.
“There is a reason she is a Division I shortstop,” said Hensley. “That girl can flat-out hit. We will have to be real careful and pick and choose the pitches we want to throw to her. Hopefully we can find a way to keep the ball in the park when she swings at it.”
Also dangerous for Mooresville are senior Kendall Lowry (.500, 12 doubles, 36 RBIs), junior Madison Poulson (.440, 50 runs scored) – an Indiana State commit, Kugelman (.388, 36 RBIs) and senior Maddie Gainey (.367, 28 RBIs).
Shelbyville has its own wicked trio at the top of the batting order with Edwards, senior Hailey Pogue (.467, 16 doubles, 32 runs scored) – a University of Indianapolis commit, and sophomore Addie Stieneker (.451, 12 doubles, seven home runs, team-leading 40 RBIs). Those three went 7-for-10 in Friday’s 5-2 sectional championship win over 4A No. 2 Columbus North, which was labeled an upset in the minds of the Bull Dogs’ followers.
“(Columbus North) had some pretty high rankings and if you lose one game all year and tie another one you probably deserve to get a lot of press,” said Hensley. “I think they were as high as No. 14 in the country when we beat them. I guess in most people’s eyes it was an upset. We came in to that game fully expecting to win. I don’t think anybody in our dugout thought it was an upset.”
Shelbyville’s Final Four run in 2022 also featured Eads (.337, nine doubles, four home runs, 23 RBIs) and sophomore catcher Kali Laycock (.253, seven doubles, 15 RBIs) but the rest of the 2023 roster has limited postseason experience.
“There are seven or eight that were on that team last year when we made that run all the way to the Final Four,” said Hensley. “Our girls believe, there are 16 teams left in 4A, I think they all believe they are one of the best 16 teams in the state.
“Confidence is a factor with that and obviously some experience. We still have a lot of youth on our team with four sophomores and a handful of freshmen. Even though they are young, they’ve all sort of been there, done that. Even most of our freshmen have played fairly high-level travel seasons and played in big games.”
Mooresville captured its eighth sectional championship but just the program’s first since 2007.
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