Ray's no-hitter leads Villa Grove to long-awaited title

Ray's no-hitter leads Villa Grove to long-awaited title

VILLA GROVE — Jeana Block knew better than to dwell when her Villa Grove softball team dropped seven of its first eight games this season.

That same awareness kept the coach from being too surprised Friday evening when the same group of Blue Devils huddled together for pictures, posing with the program's first regional-title plaque since 2005.

"We played a really tough schedule," Block said of the 1-7 start, which included four losses in a road trip to Tennessee. "While it was frustrating as a coach ... I always felt like we were a better team than our record."

So did the Blue Devils, who rode the quiet confidence of Jordyn Ray's no-hitter to a five-inning 10-0 victory and the Class 1A Villa Grove Regional championship against St. Teresa.

Ray, who struck out five of nine batters faced in the first three innings, kept things settled while the Blue Devils (22-12) overcame some early jitters, only for them to break loose for a five runs in the third frame.

"I'm always nervous through any game, but I was pretty confident in my team," said Ray, whose straight-faced concentration gave no indication of nerves from the circle. "I was honestly pretty shaken up, just focusing on one pitch at a time."

Ray's trust in her teammates showed on her sixth pitch, which was pulled midway into center field and into the glove of Kyleigh Block.

Ray didn't even turn to watch.

A similar ball was hit to Block again to start the second inning, and again Ray reset her focus and prepared for the next batter without a glance.

"When I have pop flies in the outfield, I don't even watch," Ray said, "because I know my outfield is going to get the out."

She also knows her offense — a squad that has scored at least 10 runs during 13 games this season — is eventually going to reward her faith.

After Reagan Cheely's two-out triple in the opening frame, Villa Grove loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a hit in the third inning to set up Cheely for a three-run single up the middle.

The Blue Devils added two more runs before the end of the inning, taking a 5-0 lead thanks to Chelsea Hamilton's two-run, two-out double.

"They pushed a little too hard early," Jeana Block said, referencing lapses in base-running that sabotaged her team's early scoring efforts. "They were putting the ball in play, so I knew they'd start to fall, and once they did, things fell our direction."

The Bulldogs (3-22) made solid contact in at least eight at-bats but struggled to put anything into play, including with two runners on in the fourth inning after Ray issued her only two walks of the game.

"We typically see that type of pitching, and it usually takes us once through the lineup to get back into it," St. Teresa coach Courtney Sheehan said. "We made good contact. We just didn't find holes."

Unlike her demeanor in the circle, Ray was all smiles in the dusty aftermath surrounded by her teammates. Her face lit up when she heard the words "regional champions" used to describe her squad.

While Ray's nerves will likely to follow her into Wednesday's 4:30 p.m. sectional semifinal game against either Fisher or Gardner-South Wilmington at St. Thomas More, she isn't worried about the shaky start to the season coming back to bite her team.

Now, the Blue Devils are invested in seeing just how far they can push their limits.

"I just feel like we've come together more as a team," Ray said. "At the beginning of the season, we were shaken up and hadn't gotten back into the groove. And now ... we're just coming together more as a team."

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