MAHOMET – Charleston softball set goals and then set them aside.
Blain Mayhall gathered his team before the season and chatted about their expectations, their outlook, their desired destination at the end of the year after last season’s run to the sectional finals. They all agreed they’d like to get back there – and ideally farther.
And that was that. Mayhall says they don’t discuss those goals after setting them, that there are no thoughts of the bigger picture during or after each game. Maybe so. But watching Charleston on Tuesday and considering everything the Trojans have done in a 27-4 regular season, it’s hard not to think another deep playoff run is just getting started and that, maybe, that’s a little bit of what’s on their minds.
“We really want to go all the way,” infielder Macey McElravey said, allowing a glimpse into their visions.
Charleston shut out Mattoon 11-0 in five innings Tuesday in the regional semifinals, setting up a Saturday meeting with Mahomet-Seymour in the finals. The Trojans scored in every inning and drove in their first ten runs with two outs. In the circle, Emily Price allowed four hits in hurling a shutout.
“This is the first game of trying to achieve those goals,” Mayhall said. “They came out and made a statement.”
The game was a departure from the two meetings between these Coles County rivals from early April, when they went swing for swing before Charleston pulled out two high-scoring, closely contested wins. This time, though, the Trojans operated with the swift precision and ruthlessness of a robbery crew in an old western movie. They strutted into the bank, knocked out everyone and left with the loot, onto their next destination.
“Mattoon’s a good team. It’s a competition every time,” Mayhall said. “Our girls just came out ready to go.”
Mattoon (13-16) had its season end a day after defeating Champaign Centennial in the opening round of the Mahomet-Seymour regional. The Green Wave are the first name on a list that, right now, seems destined to grow.
“It’s now how I’d planned on it ending, especially with the talent we have,” Mattoon coach Hannah Dow said. “But I give Charleston credit too.”
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Mattoon starter Raven Morrison began each of the first two innings by inducing weak contact for two quick outs. Charleston, though, has a lineup capable of striking at any moment by stringing together hits no matter the situation.
Dee Campbell ripped a two-run double in the first inning after McElravey and Ramsey Armstrong each reached on a two-out hit. She scored by stealing home as pinch-runner Haleigh Misner purposely created a rundown between first and second. Armstrong sliced a two-run triple in the second that made the score 6-0.
“We don’t want to quit, we’re always behind each other,” McElravey said. “That’s just us.”
In the third, McElravey hit a three-run homer with two outs, walloping a ball into a stiff wind and onto the top netting of a batting cage beyond the left field fence. Price hit a solo homer for Charleston’s final run.
“They can flat-out hit,” Mayhall said. “This is a special group as far as hitting goes.”
Everything else was in top form too. Price had only two strikeouts, but allowed just three balls to leave the infield. She induced 11 ground ball outs and let Charleston’s defense do the rest.
“She’s a warrior out there,” McElravey said.
That defense erased the lone jam Price encountered. With runners on first and third and one out in the second, McElravey charged a bunt attempt, scooped it up and threw to Ava Stephens covering first. Stephens rifled a throw home to nail the runner there to end the inning. Kennedy Fellers began the fourth inning by snagging a hard chopper over third, taking away a possible double.
It all revealed a team with a goal on its mind and obvious determination to reach it.
“The girls were really loose at practice yesterday and on the bus today, in warmups,” Mayhall said. “For them, that’s a good thing. Not every team can be loose like that and then get focused when they need to. They’re having fun. It was just enjoyable to be around them today.”