By Kyle Daubs
A conference title on the line and a Coles County rivalry. Can it get better than this?
Not if you’re Blain Mayhall.
With Charleston and Mattoon at 4-0 in the Apollo Conference, both teams have everything to play for Saturday.
With two undefeated teams in the Apollo, including both teams with wins over Effingham and Mount Zion as well, this game likely will decide who wins the conference title.
“If I had to pick a matchup to decide the conference, I’m glad it’s this one,” said Mayhall. “I respect the heck out of Coach Dow. She always has her teams ready to play. It’s also fun because, unlike other conference teams, I’ve been lucky enough to see a majority, if not all, of these girls play since they were 10 during travel ball. Pretty cool to see how they have all grown as players on the field and young women off. Coles County continues to be a great area for softball. This matchup highlights that.”
Mattoon has taken down Mt. Zion, Mahomet-Seymour, Taylorville, and is coming off a thrilling 10-0 victory over Effingham on Saturday. Mattoon started the season slowly but has been playing exceptionally well since regaining all their players from volleyball season.
During the preseason, opposing coaches did not peg Mattoon as a contender for the Apollo. Now, we are entering the late stage of May and one win could prove everyone wrong.
“This is exciting, especially during preseason no one expected us to compete at the top,” said Mattoon coach Hannah Dow. “It will be a day filled with two great local teams that are fighting for an Apollo Conference title. We obviously both want to win and no matter how good either team is on Saturday, one will win and one will still lose.”
Plus, the cross-county rivalry elevates everything.
“Mattoon vs. Charleston is always a rivalry game no matter how good the teams are,” said Dow. “It will come down to which team comes ready to play and executes the little things. The girls are getting excited, but I also have to remind them that we will prepare for this game as we have for all of them.”
Both teams feature terrific pitchers.
Charleston sophomore Karah Moore is 13-0 with a 1.43 earned run average in 93 innings pitched with 19 walks, 88 strikeouts, and a .224 opposing batting average. She also threw a perfect game against Mahomet last week.
“This game is going to be a pitcher’s duel,” said Dow. “Both girls are leading the conference in the pitching stats and have dominated on the mound. Raven brings leadership to the circle and knows what she wants to throw before she steps onto the mound. She stays calm and collected and trusts her defense. I am excited to see this matchup between two great athletes.”
Mattoon senior Raven Morrison, who has flirted with no-hitters the past two weeks, has pitched like the best overall pitcher in the conference. She is 5-0 with a 0.60 earned run average in 35 innings, allowing only four walks, striking out 44 and limiting opponents to a .163 batting average.
“Both Karah and Raven have had phenomenal seasons,” said Mayhall. “They are both great teammates and will do anything they can to help their teams win. They both know how to work a lineup and I have no doubt that will continue on Saturday. It should be a fun matchup to watch.”
On paper, the Charleston offense will be the best that Morrison has faced this season. Two members on the team are hitting higher than .500. That starts with SIU commit Reagan McGahey, who is hitting .515 with 35 hits, 25 runs batted in, 16 extra-base hits and four home runs.
Teammate Ashlyn McPeak brings a .500 batting average with 41 hits, 13 extra-base hits, five home runs, 24 runs batted in and 16 stolen bases. The two seniors lead a group of Charleston hitters that are hitting .378 as a team.
“For us, the approach needs to be the same as it has been the entire season,” said Mayhall. “Consistency remains the key for us. Great pitching, solid defense, and quality at-bats should give us a chance to win. If we can be consistent in those three aspects, I feel good about where we are in any game.”
Despite limited at-bats, the Mattoon offense delivers when given the opportunity. ISU product Delainey Bryant continues to lead the team in hitting with a .500 average, while Xylia Greeson has battered the team’s only four home runs. Junior Ivie Edwards (.395 batting average) is closing in as a top hitter in the lineup.
Mattoon, 7-5 overall, has played nearly half as many games as 19-2 Charleston, but Dow said that none of that will matter Saturday.
“I told the girls in practice this week that we are not going to change our game plan just because it is Charleston,” said Dow. “Yes, it is a big game, but we still have to stay within ourselves and control what we can control. We will have to be on top of our game and continue to hit the ball as we have been. Attacking first-pitch strikes, executing the small ball when needed, and just trusting each other. The energy in the dugout will be huge for this game especially.”
Strike Out Cancer
This game will be the team’s “Strike Out Cancer” game and Charleston and Mattoon are teaming up to support a local member of the softball family. Each team sold t-shirts that will be worn on Saturday for the game. Charleston will be wearing white shirts with the “Strike Out Cancer” logo on them and Mattoon will be wearing Black shirts with the logo on them.
Casey-Westfield head softball coach Dalton McFarland was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago. Coach Mayhall and Coach Dow got together before the season and agreed that they would play this game to help him pay medical expenses.
“We hope that we have done that with the sale of shirts,” said Mayhall. “We don’t have a total yet, but are confident this will help. We appreciate all the people who have stepped up to help with this great cause.”
McFarland, a 2011 Neoga grad, was a member of the Mattoon Post 88 American Legion baseball team back. He has coached Casey-Westfield softball since 2017 and has played Charleston and Mattoon each of those seasons.
Said Dow: “Dalton is a strong young man and we want him to know that we are here to help him out any way we can with this difficult journey. MHS and CHS are #McFarlandStrong.”
Who: Charleston vs. Mattoon
Records: Charleston (19-2, 4-0) vs. Mattoon (7-5, 4-0)
Where: Karen Karch Field
Time: 11 a.m.
Pitching Matchup to Watch
Karah Moore (Charleston):
13-0, 93 Innings, 1.43 ERA, 19 Walks, 88 Strikeouts, .224 Opposing Batting Average
Raven Morrison (Mattoon)
5-0, 35 Innings, 0.60 ERA, 4 Walks, 44 Strikeouts, .163 Opposing Batting Average