Monroe High School’s softball team is once again on the verge of making history.
The Hornets have never won a Division II district championship, but they’ve earned a shot at that feat and will meet Springfield Kenton Ridge at 5 p.m. on Friday at Brookville.
“I’m just so happy for these kids with where they started and all they went through,” Monroe coach Tim Kellis said Wednesday after his second-seeded Hornets blanked Franklin 5-0 in a district semifinal at Lebanon. “It’s remarkable what they’ve accomplished. Being 18-2 … I never could’ve dreamed that.”
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Monroe pushed its winning streak to nine by completing a three-game season sweep of the Wildcats, who fell 11-6 and 4-2 during Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division play.
Alyssa Wagner tossed a five-hitter with nine strikeouts in Round 3. Sam Schwab walked, singled and launched a two-run homer to center field in the third inning.
“It takes a team to beat a good team, and I think that’s what we did today,” said Schwab, a sophomore catcher. “Everyone definitely stepped up. Our bats weren’t working at first, but everyone knew what to do. We were calm, we were poised, and we showed it.
“We definitely have more work to do, but we’re all excited. We’re all pumped. I think we’re on a high right now. There’s no limit for this team. We’re just going to keep going until we can’t anymore.”
Shelby Raby countered with a five-hitter for Franklin (11-15), the No. 6 seed. But the Wildcats’ offense wasn’t up to the challenge, stranding eight runners (seven in the last four innings).
“We couldn’t get a two-out hit when we needed it,” Franklin coach Jim Miller said. “Too many pop-ups in the infield, not enough hard-hit balls. That’s been the story of our season. We’ve been a roller-coaster hitting team.”
The Hornets scored three times in the third inning. Faith Hensley’s solo homer, an opposite-field shot to left, made it 1-0 with two outs. Shelby York then reached base on an error, and Schwab followed with her 11th long ball of the year.
Monroe added a pair of runs in the sixth on an RBI single by Madelyn Grace and an RBI bunt by Wagner. Grace, a freshman, earned Kellis’ praise for her run-producing hit and her defensive play in left.
Kellis made a lineup change, moving Hensley from the 3-hole to the leadoff spot for the first time in 2018. The Ball State University signee is hitting .724 and was 1-for-2 — she got hit by a pitch in the first inning and intentionally walked in the sixth.
“In run-scoring situations, if Faith’s at the plate, they’re going to walk her,” Kellis said. “So we figured let’s put her at the leadoff spot and that takes at least one walk out of the equation. We’ll figure out what we want to do moving forward, but today we just felt like we couldn’t afford for her not to get as many at-bats as she could get.”
Wagner, a sophomore right-hander, has 182 strikeouts in 107.1 innings this season. Her earned run average is 1.30.
“Alyssa Wagner is such a good pitcher,” Schwab said. “She comes out here every day, pitches hard and puts everything on that field. She expects us to play D, and we just back her up.”
Kellis said she’s been hampered by a back issue. The district semifinal got moved back a day because of inclement weather, and Kellis said that extra rest helped Wagner.
“We told her the other day, ‘You’re actually pitching better this year. Last year, you threw hard. This year, you’re pitching,’ ” Kellis said. “She’s mixing her pitches up and keeping people off balance.”
The Hornets’ only other trip to the district finals came in 2016 when they lost to Greenville.
“Monroe beat us three times this year, so hats off to them,” Miller said. “You’ve eventually got to stand up and beat them or your season ends.”
Franklin is losing five seniors: Raby, Harley Brooks, Haley Adams, Lacey Wilch and Olivia Kelly.
“We got off to a rocky start this year and never really recovered,” Miller said. “We’re not a bad team by any stretch. Our record says we are, but we are not a bad team. Those five seniors will leave a pretty big hole, but we’ve got some kids who have showed some promise. We’ll be back next year.”
Monroe is still dealing with the death of Kaylie Jackson, a senior who passed away April 30 after a prom-night automobile accident. Kellis said the players have been writing “KJ” on their hands, and Jackson will be remembered Saturday at the school’s graduation ceremony.
WP — Alyssa Wagner (18-1); LP — Shelby Raby (7-10); HR — M: Faith Hensley, Sam Schwab. Records: F 11-15, M 18-2
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