By Kyle Daubs
Players don’t forget.
It was Mt. Zion that took down Charleston’s 2018 record-setting team in the IHSA Sectional Championship in a thrilling 11-7 game. The Braves Zion again bounced Charleston in the 2019 IHSA Sectional Championship en route to finishing third in the state.
Charleston’s senior trio Reagan McGahey, Ava Stephens and Ashlyn McPeak were freshman and sophomores during those years. With Charleston set to travel to Mt. Zion in an Apollo Conference doubleheader, Braves coach Greg Blakey knows those players haven’t forgotten.
“Charleston will be a very good team, and I am sure they have not forgotten the past games,” said Blakey. “We will need to bring our ‘A’ games tomorrow for sure. Charleston looks to have a very solid lineup and seems to have good pitching in the circle again. I know their seniors are very talented.”
Charleston enters the game with a 12-1 overall record and 2-0 mark in the Apollo. Meanwhile, the defending conference champions are struggling to find their footing and enter with a 6-9 overall record and 1-1 mark in the conference.
Mount Zion is coming off an 11-1 win over Lincoln but then lost in the second game, which does not count in the standings, 9-1. Charleston coach Blain Mayhall refuses to let the Braves’ record fool him.
“I don’t buy into a team being down based on a record,” said Mayhall. “They play a tough schedule, so that doesn’t mean much to me. They are always good and very well-coached. They will be ready to play on Tuesday and will compete to win. Our girls will have to play a complete softball game to win. Greg is a great coach and will always have his team ready to play. They will compete at the highest level, and our kids know that.”
Charleston took care of Effingham, 4-3, in the Apollo standings game and then blasted the Hearts, 14-10, in the following game. McGahey bumped her batting average back up to .500 and is now tied for the team lead in home runs with three.
Erin Blair and Karah Moore added home runs over the weekend, while Moore allowed just three earned runs in 10 1/3 total innings. Moore should get the nod Tuesday.
While the Charleston bats have opened up to help Moore in the pitching circle, Mayhall is hoping the team’s defense will tighten up after having committeed three errors.
“We need to continue consistency with all aspects of the game,” said Mayhall. “We struggled a bit defensively in game two Saturday, so I look for us to bounce back with that. Our bats have looked great the past few games and pitching continues to be strong. If we can be a well balanced team, I feel like we will have a chance to win any game we play.”
Mt. Zion is led by Marin Stenger, who is batting .415 with 12 stolen bases. Gwen Bender adds a .370 batting average and 25 runs batted in. Dakota Harrison adds 18 RBIs, a .390 batting average and a team-best two home runs.
In the pitching circle, Mount Zion has a choice between two sophomore starters. Dakota Harrison owns a 5-2 record in a team-leading 49.1 innings pitched along with a 4.97 earned run average, 29 walks, and 71 strikeouts. Kayla Schnipple is 1-1 with a 1.30 earned run average in 27 innings pitched with nine walks and eight strikeouts.
“It has been a different year for us,” said Blakey. “Nothing has come easy for us as a team. The kids are working hard and trying to correct our weaknesses. We will be ready for the postseason.”
Who: Charleston @ Mount Zion
Records: Charleston (12-1, 2-0) @ Mount Zion (6-9, 1-1)
Where: Mount Zion High School
Time: 4:30 p.m.
Mount Zion Players to Watch: Marin Stenger, Gwen Bender, Lauren Waller, Dakota Harrison