RINGGOLD - The Dan River softball team is 16-6 and now just two wins away from a state championship.Last season the Wildcats lost in the state quarterfinals, ending the high school playing careers of six seniors.
This season the Wildcats face Page County Friday at 10 a.m. in Salem. The winner will face King William or Floyd County in Saturday's 1 p.m. championship at Radford.
The Wildcats have won five straight playoff games by jumping on teams early. They’ve won against Gretna, Randolph-Henry, Glenvar, Grayson County, and Floyd County. They’ve outscored those teams 55-17.
Head coach Ryan Scolpini said, "It's a small group. It's 11 girls but they get along well together. We play for each other. We hold each other accountable. I like to think we're good 1 through 9 through the lineup and our subs, we can stick them in and the beat doesn't change."
This is Scolpini's second stint as head coach. He led Dan River to its first and only state title, beating Powhatan 3-2 in 2006. This season he's in charge of leading a team that does not have a single senior on the roster.
"We've changed a few things around, did a few things differently but we knew going in that we would have a good group, a young group, but a good group. We've gotten better as the year's gone along and hopefully we're peaking at the right time," Scolpini said.
The main change was a change in mentality. It's a looser team and a team that has more fun.
Sophomore pitcher Kaitlyn Aherron said, "[We’re] definitely feel more relaxed playing. We don't feel as pressured as much. [Coach allows us to have] fun playing the game."
Scolpini suggested Aherron (pronounced Ay-hern) will start in the circle on Friday. "[Kaitlyn] is going to move it around, up and down, side to side. She's got good velocity. She hits her spots. She's not going to walk many. She's just a good pitcher so we expect a good game out of her," he said.
Do they feel any pressure heading into a state semifinal game?
Aherron said, "I feel a little pressure but once I walk on the field all the nerves go out and just pitch good."
Do they have to win Friday and Saturday to make this season a success?
"I feel like we do because we all know how good we are and even coach said we can play with anybody."
Junior captain Brooke Cassada said.
Sophomore shortstop Jaclyn Owens added, “I don't really believe in luck. I just think we're just blessed with all this talent that we have on this team and how we're able to work together."
Luck or no luck, Dan River already has a conference title, a region title, and needs just two more wins to accomplish their final goal of a state championship.