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Raiders victorious with thunder and lightning

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A meeting of the minds on the mound happened more than once Tuesday for the Shenandoah Lady Raiders, who found a way to strand nine Elwood base runners en route to an 8-2 first-round sectional victory. Pictured here are, (l-r) shorstop Kamryn Buck (14), third baseman Kenedi Helms (3), first baseman Skylar Counceller and pitcher Kaylen Sears.
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Shenandoah Senior Kaylen Sears fires a pitch toward the plate as her first baseman, Skylar Counceller, is in position to field anything coming her way. Sears stranded nine Elwood base runners Tuesday and led the Lady Raiders to an 8-2 first-round victory over the Lady Panthers in the first round of the Frankton softball sectional.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

FRANKTON — When a brief shower stopped Tuesday afternoon, Shenandoah’s varsity softball team poured it on in an opening-round game of Class 2A Sectional 40 at Frankton High School.

The Lady Raiders broke open a close game with Elwood with both thunder from their bats and lightning on the base paths, scoring four times in the top of the sixth following a 10-minute rain delay en route to an 8-2 victory over the Panthers.

Shenandoah played Lapel, weather permitting, in Wednesday’s second semifinal game. The Bulldogs defeated host Frankton 7-4 in Tuesday’s second game. If it survived Wednesday, the Lady Raiders would vie for the sectional title against the winner of Alexandria and Monroe Central in a 6 p.m. championship game today.

Big hits by freshman Kenedi Helms and sophomore Bridget Lohery, coupled with stolen bases by seniors Emily Olsen and Skylar Counceller, keyed the four-run sixth inning that put the game away.

One play, in particular, symbolized the runnin’ Raiders during the decisive sixth inning.

Olsen walked, with ball four sailing past the Lady Panther catcher. Instead of being content to just take first base, Olsen sprinted down the line, touched first, turned toward second base and never stopped. She scored a short time later.

It was one of many impressive hustle plays by Shenandoah, now 14-12 on the season.

“I always tell them ‘don’t just look for one base, look for two,’” Lady Raider Coach Alison Merritt said afterward.

While there was no thunder in the skies, the Lady Raider bats were booming at times during the game. They finished the game with nine hits, collecting all of them in the last five innings of the contest.

Helms had the biggest offensive day with three hits. Six other Shenandoah players had one hit each. The list included sophomores Meg Stanley and Bridget Lohrey, junior Kamryn Buck along with seniors Faith Muterspaugh, Emily Olsen and Jayla Lewis.

“When they start hitting, there’s no stopping them,” Coach Merritt said of her Lady Raiders.

Meanwhile, on the cold, damp pitching mound, Senior Kaylen Sears provided perhaps the gutsiest performance of the game. She scattered seven Lady Panther hits and had a Houdini-like knack at getting out of trouble. Elwood stranded nine base runners during the game.

“Her hand got really cold but she battled hard,” Merritt said of Sears.

Elwood Coach JR Reese bemoaned one key offensive fact afterward for his team.

“We couldn’t stop hitting the ball in the air,” Reese said.

Indeed, 12 of the 21 Elwood outs came on either fly balls or pop-ups.

The most bizarre inning of the game — and maybe the season — came in the bottom of the sixth, when Elwood collected two hits, had two hit batsmen, benefited from a Raider fielding error and took an extra base on a wild pitch, yet still scored no runs.

Big defensive plays by Shenandoah came to Sears’ rescue more than once. All three Raider outfielders — Muterspaugh, Lowrey and Stanley — either made impressive catches or threw base runners out during the game.

Elwood was the victim of a few close calls in the contest. One came in the bottom of the fifth, when, with the score 4-2 Raiders, freshman Kaylee Guillemette tried to score from third base on a fly ball, but went in shoulder-first to push Raider Catcher Emily Olsen, who consequently dropped the ball.

The home plate umpire not only ruled Guillemette out, but also ejected her from the game on the play for what he considered an overly aggressive move.

But afterward, Coach Reese said it was a call that could have gone either way.

“I haven’t known that girl to be the aggressive-type on plays like that,” he said. “We had a couple of plays that didn’t go our way today. But give Shenandoah lots of credit. After four or five innings, it was anybody’s game and they just did what good teams are supposed to do to win.”