CHILLICOTHE — Rylee Chamberlin and Sonni Nelson provided the early flurry for Crooksville on Saturday.
They dazed a higher-seeded Portsmouth squad that staggered from the outset in their Division III district final on a steamy afternoon in Ross County.
Grace Frame landed the knockout.
Chamberlin and Nelson had run-scoring hits in the first two innings to give ace McKenna Headley an early lead in the circle, then Frame walloped a third-inning grand slam that all but put a bow on a 12-0 mercy in five innings at Unioto High School.
It sent the Ceramics, voted the 10th seed by district coaches, to their first regional since 2012. Their win against the fourth-seeded Trojans (21-7) came on the heels of an emotional 4-3 comeback win against No. 3 seed Wellston in the semifinals.
The team viewed their seeding as disrespect. It entered the draw with only four losses, with two coming to teams currently in the Division II regional and another that reached its district final.
"It feels very fulfilling to be able to show them that the 10 seed in the Southeast District is not really the 10 seed," Frame said. "It definitely motivated us. It made us feel like we were undercut by the district, and we just wanted to show that no matter what your seed is, someone else can play better than you that day."
It capped a busy afternoon for Frame, who in the morning qualified for the Division III regional track and field meet after placing second in the shot at the district. There were no signs of fatigue — she finished with three of the team's 11 hits.
Her mammoth blast to right field, which came after Portsmouth lifted starting pitcher Faith Phillips with the bases loaded, was part of a nine-run third inning that saw six players get hits, one get hit by a pitch and two reach on errors. Frame's homer was followed by Jaelynn Nelson's ninth of the season — it broke the school's single-season record.
It made it 12-0 after three innings, and Headley allowed only two base runners the rest of the way in a two-hitter. The defense committed only one error to the Trojans' three.
Headley said she was able to effectively work the outside corner to right-handers and keep hitters off-balance with change-ups. The Trojans had only one runner reach third base.
As Frame put it: "We just have to trust her because she knows what she is doing."
Seven Crooksville players had at least one hit, with Frame also collecting two singles. Five of its hits went for extra bases.
Head coach Casey Vallee, who has led four Ceramic teams to the regional in two tenures, said the team carried over its momentum from Wednesday's stunning seventh-inning comeback. Emma Wilson played hero that day with a game-tying, bases-clearing triple with two outs in a two-strike count.
Chamberlin and Frame provided the biggest blows against the Trojans.
Chamberlin has been quiet at the plate of late, but any thoughts of that lingering were put to rest quickly when her triple in the first inning sent home Sonni Nelson for the game's first run. Chamberlin, a lefty, then scored on a Headley groundout to make it 2-0.
One inning later, Chamberlin laced an opposite-field double to left to send home Jailynn Theisen as the lead grew to 3-0. The quick-as-a-whistle Theisen took second on Sonni Nelson's sacrifice after legging out an infield single.
"I've struggled the past few games," Chamberlin said. "I came back today and was ready to play. I had confidence in myself at the plate."
It was emblematic of the team effort on display, from pitching and defense to bunting and homers. They saved it for the most important game to date.
Vallee said the team got a strong scouting report that gave them an edge at the plate. They moved up in the batter’s box to help neutralize Phillips’ drop curve.
"It was one through nine today (in the lineup)," Vallee said. "We wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for (No. 8 hitter) Emma (Wilson) on Wednesday night. It’s all of them. Frame goes to a track meet and then comes and hits a bomb. I think that broke it right there, but we couldn’t let up. I love these guys. I don’t think they’re done. The whole 10-seed thing, that is motivation."
It was Headley's third win in the tournament and seventh straight since a 10-7 loss at Sheridan on April 26. The team has lost only once in that span.
"I got to give credit to (Sonni) at catcher back there,” Vallee said. “As hot as it was back there, she has caught every inning this year. She handled McKenna well today, working her around the plate. They were completely shocked.”
Crooksville became the third team from the Muskingum Valley League to reach the regional tournament, joining Big School Division champion John Glenn and Sheridan, who advanced in Division II.
The Ceramics will return to Unioto for their first Division III regional in school history — they have reached five in Division IV since 2000 — at 2 p.m. on May 25 against Portsmouth West. West, the No. 2 seed in the Southeast District, edged Leesburg Fairfield, 1-0, in its district final.
The Crooksville-West winner plays either Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley, champions of the East District, or Wheelersburg, the top seed in the Southeast. They play in the second game at Unioto on May 25, with the finals set for May 28.
"We’ve got 20 wins and no team has ever done that at Crooksville,” Vallee said. “We have 20 wins and could have had 22. People were looking past us and now we’ll move on to the next game.”
This article originally appeared on Zanesville Times Recorder: Crooksville softball makes a statement in district final rout