Blue Dons confident, energized for regionals
WEIRTON — Madonna knows it is playing its best softball right now, and it is just a matter of carrying it over to the Class A Region 1 tournament beginning Tuesday at Ritchie County.
The driving force has been confidence. The Blue Dons’ offense has been slugging the ball all over the field. The defense is playing near perfect with little to no miscues. And, ace Landry Bone is setting the mode every time she steps in the circle.
What helps is the culture veteran head coach Chris Conti put into place when the season began.
“It makes such a big difference because we’re not afraid to make mistakes,” second baseman Maddie Daugherty said. “Mistakes are the only way you’ll learn and grow to become a better player. The fact that we’re in this environment, I feel like it has made our team that much better.”
Conti, who has more than 300 career victories in 25-plus years coaching, contemplated retiring prior to 2020 but eventually put those talks to bed. Even after it was canceled due to COVID-19, those rumors never came back.
Anyone who has watched Madonna play knows the reason why.
“It’s not stressful at all because this group is so easy to work with. They’re great players and just good people,” Conti said. “They make you calm and make you want to come back and coach. It’s a great environment. I don’t have any daughters, so they’re all my daughters.
“I’m out here for them. I have no ties to Madonna. They’re my ties. I came back because of this group.”
Conti also knew the potential this team had. It is in the regional tournament for the first time since 2010.
Tuesday’s opener is slated to start at 6 p.m. Game 2 will be Wednesday at Madonna, with a tentative start time of 6 p.m., though Conti will try to move it to 5 p.m. If a third game is necessary, it will occur on Thursday back at Ritchie County.
“The atmosphere’s pretty much been coach Conti telling the seniors to lead the team,” shortstop Michaela Battista said. “Most of us have been here for four years, and most of us have played all that time and lettered. The atmosphere’s been pretty energetic, and we’re just ready.
“We (the six seniors) are just trying to get it in their heads that we can make it to states. We just have to be positive so that they can carry it over when our time is over.”
The Blue Dons (13-8) seemingly cruised in the sectional tournament, with every game being played in Wheeling. They first bested Cameron, 10-2, took care of Wheeling Central, 15-1 and won the title with a 9-1 win over Magnolia on Tuesday.
All three games add up to Madonna outscoring everyone else, 34-4. Conti knows, though, that Ritchie County will be a much taller task to deal with.
“Player for player, not saying (Ritchie County) is not good or anything, we’re just as good if not better,” he said. “They have a really good pitcher that keeps them in the game. When she was down, they lost four games in a row. The pitchers we faced were fast pitchers and are good, but they’re not as fast as this pitcher.
“Our girls are hitting the ball. We’re on a roll right now, and we hope it is still contagious. That’s what we’ve been going over. They have so much confidence hitting the ball right now that I think they’ll do well.”
Bone pitched every inning of sectionals, and the plan remains the same for regionals. Yet, if need be, Daugherty will serve as No. 2.
On the season, Bone has pitched and started 12 times with nine victories. She has allowed 61 earned runs in 83 innings and struck out 109. Daugherty has the other four victories with 49 punch outs.
“Maddie is a very good pitcher, also. They both are,” Conti said. “Landry’s been pitching quite a few innings the past few games. She just picked up a lot of confidence and pitched very well. I want to say she only allowed one or two walks in the last four or five games. Now she has that confidence in her pitches.”
Conti added that he credits a lot of her success to catcher Miranda Sole, stating she calls every pitch on her own.
“She has progressed a lot. She’s been hitting her spots more than what she started out with,” Sole said regarding Bone. “Her velocity also as increased. I’m not sure, but I’d say she throws in the low-60s (with her fastball).”
One Blue Don who has been a nice surprise is first baseman Casey Yacos, who can also field second if Daugherty pitches. She delivered a two-run base knock against Central and four more hits in the other two games, including three on Tuesday.
“Casey always does something positive. She is the life of our party,” Conti said. “She keeps everybody energized and is up beat with everyone. She doesn’t let anyone get down and is just a great leader.”
Conti and Yacos agreed that her play increased after basketball season concluded in the state semifinals. Due to COVID, this softball season was delayed a few weeks, so basketball and softball coincided with one another for a short while.
Along with a few other players who played both, Yacos’ time in a state tournament — no matter the sport — is a good carryover.
“I really started telling myself, ‘I need to go 3 for 3 or at least 2 for 2.’ Being a senior, I want to be a leader, so if I start something positive, it can lead to bigger things in the game,” she said.
“It was really cool going to state basketball and being in a big gymnasium. Now having that experience and bringing it to softball, I think it’d be really cool to go back.”
Bone, who hits third in the lineup normally, is Madonna’s top batter with a .508 average, a .554 on-base percentage, eight doubles, six home runs and 28 RBIs. Battista is hitting .350 with six two-baggers, a homer and 17 runs batted in. Leadoff hitter Daugherty has set the table with a .475 batting line and 10 RBIs. Sole has a .318 average with 17 RBIs, and Adriana Lenhart is the fifth Blue Don with double-digit ribbies with 11.
As long as the Blue Dons keep the confidence, anything is possible. The atmosphere Conti and the six seniors built has kept everyone loose, relaxed and confident.
“We’ve gone the last four or so games without making any or at least many errors. Our defense is just very good right now,” Conti said. “It’s been good all year, but they stepped it up going into the sectional tournament. We moved a couple of people around, and it worked.
“There is no ‘I’ in team, and I stress that often. They get it and know we have to do this together. They never get on each other. They always complement each other. They bring each other back.”
A LOOK AROUND CLASS A
In Region 2, Clay-Battelle faces Petersburg, Midlan Trail battles James Monroe in 3 and undefeated Wahama is up against Man in 4.