New Athens coach Conrad Widdersheim had no trouble pinning the postseason hopes of his Yellow Jackets on a freshman pitcher, and so far Julia Drake has made his decision pay off.
Following up a one-hit performance in a 3-0 semifinal win over Lebanon last week, Drake tossed a three-hitter Monday to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 4-1 win over Valmeyer in the rain-delayed championship game of the Lebanon Class 1A Regional.
The victory earned the Yellow Jackets their fourth consecutive regional title and moved into a semifinal Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. against Woodlawn in the Marissa Sectional. Woodlawn (19-9) advanced with a 15-0 win over (Farina) South Central in the title game of its own regional Thursday.
“Great game by Julia. I am so proud of her for how she shut them down from the start,” said Widdersheim, whose team improved to 16-12. “If she keeps pitching like that – hitting her spots, mixing up her pitches – than we’re going to stay in these games.”
Valmeyer seemed to have an opportunity to get something going early against Drake, when Jayne Vanatta reached on a single with one out in the first inning.
However, Vanatta was promptly thrown out trying to steal third as part of a strike-’em-out, throw-’em out play which ended the inning.
Drake didn’t allow another hit until the seventh, by which time the Yellow Jackets led 4-0.
Along with the three hits, Drake walked three batters and struck out 12.
“I felt good,” said Drake, who earned her team’s starting postseason pitching nod after going 6-4 with a 3.98 ERA during the regular season. “I just try to make my pitches and trust my defense to make the plays behind me.
“This feels great. It’s what we been working for all season.”
Drake’s older sister, senior Jordan Drake, put New Athens in front 1-0 in the bottom of the second with a double off Valmeyer pitcher Lilly Schlemmer to score Taylor Junge.
Junge had drawn a walk to open the inning.
Casey Wilderman drove in the game’s second run, her little third-inning tapper out in front of the plate turning into a single which scored Bre Majzel.
A two-run single in the fifth from Junge pushed the Yellow Jackets edge to 4-0.
Valmeyer did threaten in the seventh, Chelsea Hooker coming through with a one-out double down the left-field line for the Pirates second hit of the game.
Hooker scored when Schlemmer followed with a single.
Drake retired the next two batters to end it.
With the loss, Valmeyer, which was playing in its first regional title game, ended its season with a 7-16 record.
“We didn’t quit, we wanted to win bad,” said Pirates coach Gayle McCarthy, “and I think this has done nothing but make them hungry.
“We are a young team, so next year I am expecting even bigger things out of these girls.”
A year ago, the Yellow Jackets won a sectional championship before falling to (Campbell Hill) Trico 3-0 in the super-sectional.
Widdersheim would not put it past his team to reach that level again.
“At the beginning of the season, we had a couple of goals. We wanted to win both the conference and regional championships again,” he said. “We didn’t quite get the conference, but we knew the regional was an attainable goal.
“Now that we’ve looked at the sectional pairings, we think a championship there is attainable. We’ll definitely be ready this week.”