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Wildcats seeking regional breakthrough against Shawnee

Franklin High School’s softball team is trying to make history, though third-year coach Jim Miller concedes it’s a difficult task.

The Wildcats (18-7) will be seeking their first-ever regional victory today when they meet Springfield Shawnee (25-3) in a Division II regional semifinal at Mason.

“The girls are excited, I know that,” Miller said. “I know they’re not nervous. They’re ready to play.”

Shawnee, the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division runner-up behind Kenton Ridge, reeled off 18 straight wins to start the season. The Braves are hitting .419 as a team and have a fireballer in the circle.

Senior right-hander Emily McKillip is 24-3 with a 1.03 earned run average. She has 222 strikeouts in 162.1 innings.

“We’re playing really good defense,” second-year Shawnee coach Chris Roberts said. “She does have a lot of strikeouts, but when the ball is put in play, we’ve done a really good job of limiting our errors.”

Miller has seen McKillip throw in the summer and said she’s as good as advertised.

“If I’m being honest, I would have to give the edge to them because she’s hard to score off of,” Miller said. “I think runs are going to be at a minimum, so we need to be a little bit patient at the plate and make sure we hit strikes and put the ball in play.

“The one thing I like is that neither team has been here. As far as being able to put the ball in play and nerves setting in for a big game, I think we’re over that part of it. I don’t think that’s something we’re going to have to deal with.”

Senior right-hander Becca Henry will be in the circle for the Wildcats, and she’s 17-2 with an ERA under 2.00.

The Braves will challenge her with a lineup that includes 10 players hitting .333 or better. McKillip (.531), freshman shortstop Aliya Saunders (.476), sophomore third baseman Karlee Sine (.462) and senior center fielder Morgan Loveless (.450) lead the way.

“We have decent team speed, but we don’t have any slappers,” Roberts said. “We’ve been more of a power team. We’re really a gap-hitting team.”

Shawnee has piled up 69 doubles, nine triples and 16 home runs. McKillip has 17 doubles, while Saunders has gone deep six times.

“It’s a great group of kids,” said Roberts, whose squad is riding a streak of four straight shutouts. “They’re serious about their work, but we have a lot of fun. They’re a pretty loose group, which I think helps.

“I think we’re peaking at the right time, and I think we’re confident in our ability. Even though we haven’t been here before, I don’t think we’re intimidated going into a regional semifinal game.”

Franklin, which last advanced to regional play in 2004, has three hitters in the .400 range: Henry, sophomore center fielder Patton Akers and sophomore first baseman Emily Temple.

Springfield Northwestern and Plain City Jonathan Alder will meet in the second regional semifinal Thursday. The regional title will be decided at noon Saturday at Mason.

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