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Softball notes: Valley Center battles through close losses

Published May 10 at 4:17 p.m. | Last updated May 10 at 4:18 p.m.

The Valley Center softball team is 9-7 but oh-so-close to having a near-perfect record.

“We’ve been winning in every game,” Valley Center coach Corey Jones said. “We’ve played some close games, and really, almost every loss is a heartbreaker. We’re not getting our butt kicked 15-0. These are games where we had a chance to win every game.”

Valley Center has split with Andover Central, been swept by Salina South and Maize South, while sweeping Newton, Andover and Arkansas City.

The Hornets led against Andover Central, but when third baseman Gabby Sandoval was hit in the forehead by a line drive, they struggled.

“Mentally we couldn’t get back on it that night,” Jones said. “… She’s probably the toughest girl on our team, and she took one right square in the forehead and it bounced, went all the way to our second baseman.”

Valley Center lost by one run in each of its games with Salina South, although the Hornets had to finish the second game, 14 innings, two weeks after it began.

“They don’t have lights, and we were 9-9 going to the eighth, and it was too dark,” Jones said. “We went back (two weeks later), and it took seven innings to get through it. We thought we were going up there for 20 minutes.”

Valley Center has relied on No. 1 pitcher Perrin Spears, who missed the end of the 2013 season due to a back injury. She’s pitching well now, but No. 2 pitcher Miranda Trible is out for the season with an injury. Wylie Glover has stepped in to replace Trible and is 2-0 with no runs allowed.

Another bright spot has been shortstop Megan Barnes, who is the Hornets’ leadoff hitter.

“I tell my girls that we’re right there,” Jones said. “These are all teams we’re going to have to beat in our regional, and we’re one hit away from beating them. We just have to keep fighting through it, try to win some close games and give ourselves a chance in our regional.”

Mason’s 300 wins — Mulvane coach Charlie Mason won his 300th game on May 5 in a win over Winfield.

“That’s longevity, that’s 23 years of sticking to it,” said Mason, 64. “… It’s been a long time. The early years were kind of the other way. There were a lot of ‘L’s’ in the early years. We gradually turned it around and had some really good success the last few years.”

One of Mason’s favorite memories was when he said he’d have tryouts 10 minutes before games to see who was pitching that day. Another game he had a player who sat on second base and refused to move because it was her final softball game.

“I received a lot of congratulations from a lot of former players,” said Mason, whose team is 11-5. “That brings back a lot of memories. I remember each of those players. That’s what it’s all about, getting those players to be the best they can be and taking it to the next level.”

Cheney’s adjustments — Cheney had to make multiple adjustments after the 2013 season.

First, coach Matt Johnson wanted a tougher schedule.

“We went into regionals playing soft end of the year, we were seeded No. 1 and we didn’t play the first night of the tournament because we had a bye,” said Johnson, whose team lost to Lyons in the Class 3A regional semifinals. “We sat for a whole week and we hadn’t played. We went in not ready.”

So Johnson improved the schedule, adding a triangular with Valley Center (Class 5A) and Campus (Class 6A).

“We wanted to see what we were made of,” said Johnson, whose team won its first 14 games.

Another major adjustment was Johnson had to move players around due to graduation, and that meant a whole new infield.

Shortstop Torrey Lonker moved to catcher, and outfielders Caitlyn Molyneux and Taylor Denney moved to shorstop and second base, respectively.

Molyneux’s transition went well because she had played short with her summer team, while Denney had played some infield on the junior varsity team.

“And Torrey, I could put her anywhere,” Johnson said. “She loves the game.”

Emily Jacobs, who is nearly 6-foot, has been tough to handle on the mound.

“She’s constantly working on her pitching game,” Johnson said. “She’s worked real hard to get her screwball and an effective changeup. It’s something she has to be better at, and that’s something she’s done very well. She throws some pretty hard pitches and she’s pretty intimidating on the mound.”

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.