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Vicksburg not limited to one style, young Bulldogs reach first state semifinal

By: Steve Vedder, June 15, 2016, 2:51 pm

Vicksburg – Think of it as small ball at its smallest.

While Vicksburg’s softball team may not completely lack power, it was speed and an uncanny ability to make things happen by putting the ball in play that explained Tuesday’s 14-2 thumping of defending state champion Wayland Union in a Division 2 quarterfinal at Davenport University.

Despite the ball never leaving the infield, an opportunistic Vicksburg offense turned a five-run first inning into what will be the school’s first state semifinal appearance.

Vicksburg (35-8) will play Livonia Ladywood on Thursday at Michigan State at 3 p.m.

Ladywood is no stranger to the semifinals. Ladywood lost in the final in 2009 and ’14, and won the title in ’12.

Vicksburg did eventually add three extra base hits that drove in six runs, but it was a crucial first inning that included two bunt singles, a sacrifice, a walk, an error, a wild pitch and an error that led to the 5-0 lead. In fact, the first seven runs scored by the Bulldogs came without anyone punching the ball out of the infield.

That isn’t necessarily how the Bulldogs’ offense typically works. Coach Paul Gephart said he thought he spotted an early opportunity to take charge of the game and it paid off.

Gephart paid attention to Wayland’s pre-game workout and thought small ball was the best strategy.

"We thought with our speed we could make enough things happen quickly," Gephart said. "We thought we’d pressure them and take what they gave us. We want to play our game and not be intimidated."

Vicksburg led 8-0 after two innings, then used two-run triples by Grace Stock and Carlie Kudary, and a two-run homer by junior shortstop Shaidan Knapp to seal the win.

In all, Vicksburg reached base 16 times in 29 at-bats. Knapp said there really isn’t much difference between the team scoring runs via small ball or with power. Vicksburg is hitting .435 as a team with four .500 hitters.

"We’re best at both," Knapp said. "We have good speed and use the short game, but we do have power. When one person seems to have power, we just keep going."

Kudary, a junior outfielder, went 4-for-4 with three runs. She said the goal was to test the Wildcats defense early.

"We had some good at-bats in small ball," she said. "We put pressure on their defense and got some timely hitting."

Gephart said it’s a combination of talent that has led to the outstanding offense.

"We have speed, good bunters and six or seven girls who can hit it out," he said. "It’s a balanced offense. But we were definitely surprised (with the lopsided win). We expected a one or two-run game."

Vicksburg has only two seniors, second baseman Olivia Holmes and outfielder Alicia Cagney, and relies greatly on a junior class that’s played together in Little League, then later on the summer travel teams, since they were eight years old. Gephart said he doesn’t discount senior experience, but today’s best teams can compete at a high level with a large group of underclassmen. The Bulldogs are a prime example of that type of team.

"Players in high school can be so good because they’ve played so many games," he said. "This group of players has been together a long time and I feel real good about them."

Kudary said big-game experience gives the team a shot at a state title.

"It’s important to have experience," she said. "But any kind of experience helps. We’ve played together for a long time."