By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
PURDY — Even while nearly remaining flat-footed in the batter’s box, Casey Ellison has reached record-breaking heights during her four-year Purdy career and once again is helping the Lady Eagles make a deep playoff run.
Ellison belted a pair of doubles, scored two runs and drove in two more to power Purdy past Crane 9-0 in a Class 1 Sectional on Monday. The defending State runners-up are in the Elite Eight for the third time in four years.
The Lady Eagles’ six first-inning runs and nine hits overall were more than enough to support winning pitcher Hallie Henderson’s 16-strikeout performance.
Ellison has established herself as one of the best catchers in Class 1, while having a somewhat unusual approach at the plate. If she lifts her front foot at all while preparing to swing, it’s minimal and by design.
“Back when I was younger, I had a high leg kick,” Ellison said. “I soon learned that it wasn’t working well for me. I was behind on the ball because I wouldn’t have my leg down. I still had my foot up in the air. I shortened my leg kick so I could get my foot down before I swung.”
While speeding up her swing by keeping her front foot on or very near the ground, Ellison said she still hasn’t sacrificed power. She hit two balls to the center-field fence Monday.
“It actually has made me have more power,” Ellison said. “I’m more confident in my swing when I have a small leg kick.”
Coach Lori Videmschek preaches to her hitters to avoid a high leg kick so as to have a higher contact percentage on their swings.
“I try to get them to stay short in the zone and get the barrel of the bat to make contact and barrel through,” she said. “When you do that, everything pretty much goes up the middle and you drive the ball real well.”
Purdy (21-4) put pressure on Crane (11-5) from the get-go. The Lady Eagles’ first six batters in the first inning reached base and scored. Ellison had a two-run double and Zoey Brown added an RB-double during the early uprising.
The Lady Pirates committed two of their six errors during the first frame.
“We came out being aggressive, swung at good pitches, drove the ball well and ran the bases on them,” Videmschek said. “We needed to do that because (Crane’s Olivia Edwards) is a good pitcher. We hit the ball hard. We drove the ball deep. Their outfielders were at the fence catching the ball.”
“I was excited and proud about what we did,” Ellison added. “We always say to jump on them early and we did that today.”
Purdy added three runs in the fifth.
Ellison hit the ball hard in each of her four at-bats Monday, while going up against a former teammate in Edwards. Both played club ball with Regal during their formative years.
“I filled in on Regal and caught (Edwards),” Ellison said. “I always like playing against girls who I have played with in the past, to see what it’s like to play against them and not with them.”
Henderson wasn’t able to get in on the Lady Eagles’ fun at-bat. She was 0-for-4. But she didn’t carry her troubles hitting with her to the center circle. The senior right-hander fired a three-hitter and walked no one.
Crane’s only hits were a single and double by McKenzie Funcannon and a single by Edwards.
“Today was not my day at the plate,” Henderson said. “It was frustrating. But when I’m pitching, I feel like I’m on my own island with no one around. I’m able to let go of my thoughts. So, even when I’m not doing well at the plate, I’m able to let go of that when I’m pitching.”
Edwards’ ‘out’ pitch proved to be her rise ball.
“I’d say she threw it about 50 percent of the time,” said Ellison, who has caught Henderson since they were both 9 years old. “The rise ball worked very well and she hit all her spots, like I expected her to.”
“My rise ball has done well for me this year,” Henderson said.
Purdy advances to meet Liberal in the quarterfinal round Thursday. When the teams met in the regular season, Liberal prevailed 6-2.
“I don’t think it will be a high-scoring game,” Videmschek said of the teams’ rematch. “I think it will be about whoever can move the runner over and come up with a key hit. That’s what it is going to take.”
Crane 000 00 0 – 0
Purdy 600 030 x – 9
WP – Henderson. LP – Edwards.