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Clay Eagles softball eyes big prize

05/15/2014, 12:00am EDT
By STEVE JUNGA BLADE SPORTS WRITER

TRAC champ Clay aims to reach state tournament for first time


Haley Dominique, a sophomore left fielder, is hitting .479 and tops Clay with 47 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

As Clay begins its Division I softball tournament trail today at home against Waite, it already has 24 victories.

If the Eagles of veteran coach Brenda Radabaugh are going to reach their goal, however, they will need at least five more wins.

Clay (24-2, 13-0 TRAC), ranked No. 7 in Ohio, has repeated as Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion, and now begins its quest of reaching the state tournament for the first time in school history.

It is something that drives senior captains Honnah Susor, Brooke Gallaher, Harleigh Isbell, and the rest of this Eagles lineup.

“We have quite a few players back from a team that lost in the regional final last year,” Radabaugh said. “They know just how close we were to making it to the state final four in Akron, so there is a bit of a hunger there. It’s something they think is doable.”

In her 14th season at Clay, Radabaugh has a 287-97 record. Counting her 153-58 mark in nine years at Central Catholic (1992-2000), her career mark is 440-155.

Her Eagles have been on the brink of the state semifinals twice before — in 2009 and 2013 — each time falling to perennial state power Elyria by 4-1 scores.

“To win a state championship is always a goal,” Radabaugh said. “The kids have that on their list of goals. A lot of that is players believing they can do it. This might be the first year they actually believe we can do it.”

Goals are nice, but deep tournament runs can be a little more challenging, requiring talent, timing, and sometimes luck.

“We’ve faced some good pitchers over the years [at regional], and it’s going to have to take them believing they can do it,” Radabaugh said.

“It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you don’t believe you can win, you’re not going to win. Sometimes it takes a little bit of luck. The best team doesn’t always win.”

With an all-time program best .422 team batting average forged by a lineup stocked with experienced veterans and productive newcomers, Clay seems to have the talent.

The Eagles’ timing and luck in the tourney remain to be seen.

In an effort to have her team take the next step, Radabaugh utilized two new practice elements to give the players a better chance to improve.

First, the Eagles took full advantage of the new Ohio High School Athletic Associations rule that allowed additional days of individualized coaching instruction (up to four players per practice) in the offseason to hone their batting skills.

And second, where in past years weight training all but ceased once the regular-season game schedule began, Clay’s players now show up at 6:30 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday to lift before school.

The value of these new elements is reflected in the statistics.

Last season, the 26-4 Eagles set team records for team batting average (.382), home runs (15), and runs per game (8.87). This year, through 26 games, they were up 40 points in batting average, had hit 16 homers, and were scoring 11.96 runs per game.

At the core of the offense is the speedy center fielder Susor, a left-handed batter who leads off and leads the team in average (.590), hits (49), home runs (5), and runs scored (50). She has 40 RBIs and 31 stolen bases.

“A lot of it has to do with our team chemistry,” said Susor, who has signed to play at Wright State. “We’re all good athletes in the field and batting, and that has a lot to do with it.

“From the start, we like to put the pressure on the other team — let them know that we’re here and not going to back down.”

In the pitcher’s circle, Gallaher, a fourth-year varsity player, has continued her All-Ohio second-team form from 2013. She is 14-1 with a 1.63 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 85 2/​3 innings. She will pitch at Lourdes University.

“Since it’s our senior year we’re more determined to get this done, because we don’t have another year and another chance,” Gallaher said. “It’s basically a now-or-never situation.

“Last year we made it to the regional, and this year, since day one of practice, it’s been our goal to get to state. The thing that’s different for me this year is that I’m not taking the pressure so hard. Last year I would feel the pressure when it came down to the time when it mattered most. This year I’m keeping my composure more.”

Isbell has dropped a bit at the plate from last year (.394 to .273), but she remains the leader of the infield at shortstop.

“We all have the same goals, and we’re very dedicated to accomplishing those goals,” Isbell said. “We’re all good at focusing on one thing, and we kind of just mesh together.

“I am crazy motivated. We were so close last year you could taste it. This year, we want to go all the way. We’re all pretty confident. There’s going to be bigger competition as we go on, but we think we can handle it."

Sophomore left fielder Haley Dominique has already committed to Ball State. Batting in the No. 2 spot, the lefty leads the team in RBIs (47) and stolen bases (32), shares the lead in runs (50) with Susor and is hitting .479 with three homers.

“It’s a great advantage playing aggressive,” Dominique said of Clay’s style. “With mine and Honnah’s ability to steal bases, we can get into scoring position for our teammates to hit us in.

“We have to hit the ball hard and play solid in the field [to make a tourney run]. It’s just the basics. Our team was good last year, and we’re probably a little better this year.”

Clay’s second leading hitter is freshman designated player Bekah Yenrick, who is batting .556 with three homers, 38 RBIs, and 29 runs scored. Next is the other lineup newcomer, junior right fielder and third hitter Baleigh Bocook, who is batting .493 with a home run, 25 RBIs, and 36 runs.

Also above the .400 mark are two juniors — first baseman Jamie Miller (.422, two homers, 36 RBIs, 29 runs), and third baseman Hayley Schiavone (.413, 2 homers, 28 RBIs, 29 runs).

Rounding out the regular batting lineup is junior second baseman Brooke Gyori (.392, 17 RBIs, 30 runs, 16 stolen bases).

The other senior starters are catcher Emily Sibbersen, who has batted .333 in just 27 at-bats, and No. 2 pitcher Danielle Lorenzen (10-1, 1.83 ERA, 46 strikeouts in 65 innings).

“I don’t have to worry about the top of the lineup having to get the job done,” Radabaugh said. “From top to bottom, anybody can produce. Overall, this is probably our best team ever on paper. We’re solid all the way around.”

A Clay win against Waite today would send the Eagles to a district semifinal Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Fostoria against the winner of today’s sectional final between Findlay and Marion Harding.

Clay’s only losses this season came in doubleheader splits with Anthony Wayne and Clyde.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.

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