MIDDLETOWN — Heading into Friday’s regional championship game, Middletown’s softball team hadn’t reached the state tournament since 2015.
No need to remind Knights senior pitcher Victoria McClain. Four years ago, her older sister Annie was a star shortstop who helped that Middletown team win its first state crown.
“It was so awesome. I looked up to her,” said Victoria, who hoped to play in the state tournament herself one day. “I’m ready to go. This team’s ready to go.”
The Knights sure looked ready on Friday.
With McClain firing a one-hitter and numerous Knights making defensive plays and getting clutch hits, Middletown rolled to an 8-0 win over Oakdale in the Class 2A West region championship game.
Middletown faces Queen Anne’s, which beat North East 9-4 in the East region final, in the state semifinals at the Bachman Sports Complex at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
“It feels amazing,” said Knights first baseman Haley Miller, who had two hits and three RBIs. “We’ve been working so hard this season. I’m so glad all of our hard work is finally paying off.”
The Knights (13-9) had plenty of work to do, too. Unlike four years ago, when Middletown dominated all season, this year’s group had to bounce back from a rocky start.
“We had a lot of new faces this spring, and we had a lot of injuries early,” longtime Knights coach Charley Toms said. “And about midseason, we started to get healthy, and we started to figure out who fit where better, and things just started to click.”
One of the players who returned from injury was McClain, who has emerged as one of the county’s top pitchers since being sidelined with a fractured sinus cavity.
She was masterful again on Friday. She only allowed two batters to reach base — Brianna Walker on a single in the second inning and Kaleah Wetherholt on a hard grounder that glanced off the third baseman’s glove in the seventh.
“That was a hard-hit ball,” McClain said. “I probably would’ve closed my eyes trying to get it.”
That’s coming from someone who spent the early part of her high school career as a middle infielder. But she also dabbled as a pitcher back then, and that eventually became her main role.
McClain struck out seven on Friday, but she mainly relied on her fielders, especially the infield on a day when only three balls off Oakdale bats reached the outfield.
One of the biggest defensive highlights came in the sixth, when McClain fielded Gabby Mackay’s full-swing bunt and fired to first. Miller’s long stretch — she did a split — allowed the throw to barely beat Mackay for the inning’s second out.
The game’s final out also came on a noteworthy defensive play. When Oakdale’s Hayley McChesney bounced a liner in front of right-fielder Emma Ranneberger for an apparent single in the seventh, Ranneberger fired to first to get the assist.
Ranneberger, who started the season on the JV team, is one of the mid-to-late season additions who helped give the Knights a boost. She knocked in the first run of Friday’s game with a single in the second and had three hits with two doubles in a 4-3 win over Williamsport on Wednesday.
“We knew we were getting a good bat, we didn’t realize how good of a bat we were getting,” said Toms, who grinned when saying Ranneberger was a sophomore on a team full of young players.
Routzahn, aside from making several plays at second, had a two-run single in the third, and Miller hit an opposite-field, three-run double to left to highlight a five-run sixth.
“I cleared my head and drove it outside, just like my coaches have been telling me to do,” she said.
Bears batters made consistent contact but had little to show for it.
“We didn’t find the holes,” Oakdale coach Sean McChesney said. “They don’t really scorch the ball around, but they seem to find the holes. Our first two rounds of the playoffs, that’s what we did. It’s just, the softball gods weren’t with us today.”
Still, Oakdale — like Middletown — bounced back from early-season struggles and the loss of key players. After starting off 1-5, the Bears finished 9-11.
“We had starters out, we kind of floundered through the first half of the year,” McChesney said. “Then we kind of got settled in and made a good run towards the end. We definitely made a good run in the playoffs.”