Seneca Valley ace Lexie Hames shines on big stage, no-hitting Hempfield with 18 Ks

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 | 7:27 PM

The top two teams in Class 6A softball could be on a collision course to meet again a year after No. 1 Hempfield downed No. 2 Seneca Valley in the WPIAL championship game.

In the first of two section matchups this season between the formidable foes, the difference was the pitching excellence of Lexie Hames, who threw no-hit ball and reached a lofty milestone to blank the Spartans, 2-0, on Wednesday in Harmony.

Hames has been lights out, throwing 19 no-hit innings in her last 20. To go along with her 13th consecutive hitless innings, Hames added 18 strikeouts, including the 500th of her career.

“I didn’t even know I was close to 500. Just hearing that is awesome,” Hames said. “It’s a huge milestone in my career. In high school, I came in just trying to produce for my team in general. Strikeouts weren’t a huge thing for me. It was more just getting outs. Last year, it started to climb a little bit, and then, this year, just that next step in hitting more strikeouts.”

Lexie’s mom, Marleese Hames, had the perfect vantage point to take it all in from the dugout as the Seneca Valley coach watched the pitching masterpiece unfold.

“Looking at it from a coach standpoint is just phenomenal,” Marleese said. “Her being able to do what she does just amazes me, especially as a mom being able to sit back and realize she pitched a no-hitter to the WPIAL championship team. Her accomplishment today is big.”

A no-hitter is no small task against Hempfield (4-1, 3-1), which came into the matchup averaging 7.5 runs. However, Hames allowed just one walk while inducing 13 swings and misses for strikeouts.

“Lexie’s an outstanding pitcher,” Hempfield coach Tina Madison said. “That’s why every little advantage we can take, we try to take. One walk was the only baserunner, and (you) can’t make anything happen with one baserunner.”

For Hames, a Clemson recruit, much of that has to do with the location of her pitches, and she credits a new tool the Raiders (8-0, 5-0) are using this year.

“The biggest thing, as silly as it sounds, we got this fake batter this year, and I use it every pitching workout. I absolutely hated it, but I’ve just been working on location with it with rise balls especially and working on three different levels of it,” Hames said.

As Hames dotted the strike zone throughout the contest, the Raiders were matched up against a dominant pitcher in Riley Miller, who is committed to Kent State.

Through the first three innings, Miller allowed just three hits and struck out three, but things unraveled in the bottom of the fourth.

After Seneca Valley’s Neve Miller singled to right field, Abby Kalkowski dropped one in front of the diving left fielder. The ball proceeded to roll to the fence, allowing Miller to race around the bases and score and giving Kalkowski a triple.

“Being able to get some kids on base and then have some girls come in and make a big hit, Abby (Kalkowski) getting that triple was huge. Laying off that changeup was huge for us and really changed the momentum of the game,” Marleese Hames said.

During the ensuing at-bat, senior Kylie Staudt cracked one into right field to score Kalkowski to make it 2-0.

A team that usually thrives on defense had a few too many lapses starting with the first hit of the inning to the triple that allowed the Raiders to get on the board.

“I thought I maybe had my second baseman in a little too up. That’s how the first girl that scored,” Madison said. “Then, my left fielder misplayed that ball. You don’t dive there when you have a runner in scoring position.”

That was all the insurance Hames needed. She struck out batter No. 500 of her career in the top of the seventh: an eight-pitch at-bat against Lauren Howard.

The Hames-Miller battle is just one level of a growing rivalry that took center stage again with both coaches understanding what it means to play in this matchup.

“Exciting and nervous at the same time,” Marleese Hames said. “I always have butterflies because they are such a great team.”

For Madison, she understands that this one is disappointing to lose but knows the more meaningful games will come in May.

“Not that it doesn’t mean anything, but we’ve got to beat them when it matters,” she said.

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