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Banks storms to a pair of easy wins against its first two state playoff opponents

It’s hard to imagine a player with eight games of postseason experience — a senior who has won a state title and been named Class 4A State Player of the Year — having pre-game jitters before a first-round playoff game, but Kaylin VanDomelen had a little case of the butterflies two weeks ago.

Luckily, it didn’t last long.

VanDomelen shook off her early anxiety and pitched Banks to an 8-4 victory over North Marion in the first round of the state playoffs on May 22, then she turned around and fired a brilliant seven-inning no-hitter two days later in the second round against Henley, leading the Lady Braves to a 7-0 win and a berth in the state semifinals.

“It was her first career playoff start,” Banks head coach Jenny Compton said of VanDomelen, a four-year varsity starter who shared pitching duties with freshman MaKenna Partain and sophomore Hannah VanDomelen during the regular season. “She had some jitters and she worked through them (against North Marion). By Friday you’d never know that she even had a problem. She was ready to go.”

VanDomelen was one of three pitchers that Compton used the last three seasons, but graduated senior Melissa Masters pitched all of the Braves’ playoff games a year ago during their run to a 4A state championship, and Masters split pitching duties with Marla Gooding in 2010 when Banks finished second in the state.

This year, VanDomelen got the ball in pressure situations. She delivered a pair of sparkling performances two weeks ago.

Against North Marion, VanDomelen struck out 10 batters and scattered five hits over seven innings, and she was even better against Henley, recording 12 strikeouts while allowing only two baserunners all game.

“She settled down and was ready to go,” Compton said. “I think she pitched really well. She’s definitely been in a great groove this year.”

VanDomelen’s jitters against North Marion were alleviated by an early offensive barrage. Banks scored three runs in the bottom of the first and had a commanding 8-1 lead by the end of the fourth inning.

North Marion (16-12) got three runs back in the top of the seventh as rain began to fall and conditions deteriorated, but VanDomelen settled down to get the last three outs and send Banks on to the state quarterfinals.

“The rain started coming down and I was glad we moved the game up an hour,” Compton said. “Kaylin threw a lot more fastballs in that last inning. At that point, we just wanted to get out of there, because a win is a win.”

Banks jumped on top early, getting a two-run triple from Partain in the bottom of the first. Madison Soper scored Partain with a squeeze bunt, giving the Braves a 3-0 lead.

North Marion got a run back in the top of the second, but Banks responded with an RBI double from Lexi Chung to make it 4-1, and the Lady Braves pushed across three more runs in the bottom of the third.

Partain and Soper both walked and Courtney Engeseth loaded the bases with an infield single. One run scored on a North Marion fielding error, and senior Riley Gerlinger followed with a two-run double that gave Banks a 7-1 lead.

Partain added an RBI double in the fourth inning, and she finished the game 3-for-3 with a single, double and triple. Gerlinger added a 2-for-3 performance at the plate.

With that game in the books, Banks turned its attention to 10th-ranked Henley (18-10). With VanDomelen dominating in the pitcher’s circle, it was only a matter of time before the Braves’ offense broke through, and this time the big inning came in the third.

Engeseth led off with a sharp single to right field, Gerlinger beat out a bunt for a single, and Hannah VanDomelen reached on an error to load the bases. Kaylin VanDomelen helped her own cause with a two-run single down the left field line, and Partain followed with a single that scored two more runs. Molly Johnson capped the rally with an RBI base hit that gave Banks a 5-0 lead.

“The first two innings were real nailbiters, then in the third we finally broke through,” Compton said.

The Braves added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth. Engeseth singled and Gerlinger reached on an error to put two runners aboard for Kaylin VanDomelen, and the senior belted a two-run double to right-center field that made it 7-0.

“I was getting a little greedy, because I really wanted to get three more runs and have it be a 10-0 ballgame,” Compton said. “It just wasn’t in the cards.”

Nevertheless, it was another convincing win for the Lady Braves, who ran their winning streak to 23 games heading into a state semifinal showdown against Newport on May 28.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 29 issue of the News-Times.

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