Jeff Hurndon Photography
Savannah McHellon began her high school career at Mundy’s Mill with two no-hitters, but transferred to Ola for this season. Her current and former teams meet today at 4:30 p.m. in the first round of the Class AAAA bracket.
The Mundy’s Mill softball needle is nearly on “E” — hardly the ideal stamina level to renew acquaintances with an ex-teammate, especially one who pitches as dominantly as Savannah McHellon.
On fumes, the Tigers coast into the state tournament today against Ola, which with McHellon’s help is undoubtedly the most formidable No. 3 seed in the state’s five classifications.
McHellon, a sophomore, likely will be one of the pivotal characters in today’s 4:30 p.m. doubleheader between the team she burst on the scene with last year as a freshman — pitching no-hitters in her first two starts — and the team she transferred to over the summer.
With McHellon, Mundy’s Mill went 18-2 last season, breezing to the Region 4-AAAA championship. Without her, the Tigers have two fewer wins, despite playing 10 additional games.
And now they take on Ola, which comes from the state’s toughest region, 3-AAAA — where making the playoffs goes hand in hand with earning a spot in the Prepcountry.com GACA rankings.
At 26-9-1, Ola is Class AAAA’s fourth-ranked team, yet it’s third to No. 1-ranked Union Grove (28-4), No. 2-ranked Whitewater (30-8) and ahead of No. 9-ranked Northgate (18-6).
“It’s harder to get out of our region than it is to get into the state tournament,” Ola coach Gidget Gue said Tuesday.
Conversely, nobody from Mundy’s Mill’s region is ranked, though the Tigers are a No. 2 seed. Just making it this far without the ace they expected to have is an accomplishment for the Tigers, who clearly aren’t used to thirtysomething-game seasons.
“We got to the region championship and ran out of gas,” Mundy’s Mill coach Patrick Smith said, referring to a 24-12 loss to Lovejoy last week. “We have 10 varsity players and it’s a strain on 10 girls to play 30 games.”
Batting against McHellon could be a strain all its own for the Mundy’s Mill girls, who are led by big-hitting catcher Danetra Jackson, another sophomore, and pitcher Danika Stevens, a junior. McHellon can rack up the strikeouts, like the 17 she had in her freshman debut against Forest Park last season in no-hitter No. 1. Or the nine she had against Drew in her following start, no-hitter No. 2.
McHellon is among Ola’s leading power hitters with six home runs and maintains the respect of her former coach.
“She’s definitely a special, special kid,” Smith said. “She’s very mature for her age, always very poised no matter the situation. On the mound, she’s in a zone. I’ve never seen such poise in such a young player.”
Mundy’s Mill has another contributing freshman pitcher in Shuwntrice Callaway and won’t dwell on — or comment about — what might have been if McHellon had stayed.
“This is a good young team,” Smith said. With only one senior graduating, Mundy’s Mill could become a state-tournament mainstay.
The Tigers better be good today, facing McHellon and Raya Moncus. Gue doesn’t believe the Mustangs will be any more fired up for McHellon’s sake.
“Not in that regard,” she said. “But I hope they play with a little more oomph because it’s a state-tournament game.”