Conventional wisdom would tell you Mady Watson’s single that plated Ashley Day in the bottom of the eighth inning of the Division II Central district championship game between No. 2 Jonathan Alder and No. 3 Granville won the Pioneers their first-ever district title on Saturday, May 24, at Pickerington Central.
But the truth is the 2-1 Alder victory was actually won in the top of the third inning when Watson somehow pitched her way out of a bases loaded-nobody out jam, allowing just one run and keeping she and her teammates very much in the game.
“We talked all week long about containing them and not letting them have a big inning,” Alder assistant and pitching coach Heather Widner said. “They are a very, very good hitting team and we knew they could put big numbers up on the board. That was such a huge momentum swing right there to hold them to just one.”
Alder (25-1) scored first in the game when freshman Sasha Hamlin crushed a pitch over the fence in left field making it 1-o Pioneers. In the ensuing half inning, the outcome of the game was altered by a game-changing effort by Watson.
Granville’s Olivia Simon led of the third with a single. Watson then misplayed a sacrifice bunt attempt by Taylor Drumm, putting runners at first and second with no outs. Sierra Imhoff delivered a RBI single tying the game at 1-1. Still with a pair of runners on base and no out the potent Blue Aces (24-5) appeared to be in prime position to break things open. A walk loaded the bases, but a bunt back to Watson was flipped to catcher Kayla Fredendall for an out. The pitcher then recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning.
“I was just trying to hit my spots,” Watson said. “I wasn’t worrying about anything else. I was just trying to throw the pitches coach was calling. I was just trying to stay in my own little bubble, we talk about staying in our buddle and not letting anything bother us.”
“Mady pitched one of her best games of the year and our defense was big,” Alder coach Dave McGrew said.
The defense was no bigger than it was late in the game when a pair of Pioneers outfielders made what could’ve been game-saving catches.
In the top of the sixth, the Blue Aces’ Sophia Ehlers hit a shot to the gap in left field that would have surely plated the runner from first base. But speedy Alder centerfielder Ashley Day was somehow able to track down the ball and haul it in ending the rally.
In the top of the seventh, it was Brooke Foster’s turn to make a game-saving catch. She was able to track down a ball hit to deep left by Simon, making a jumping catch against the fence that saved the go-ahead run from scoring.
“This team is resilient and just finds ways, Brooke made a phenomenal play in the outfield, Ashley Day made a phenomenal play,” McGrew said. “It’s been a fun ride. These girls are really a fun bunch to be around.”
Alder had prime scoring chances of its own in both the fourth and sixth innings, putting runners on second and third with less than two outs each time, but on both occasions Granville’s Danielle Wolgamot pitched her way out of trouble. In the eighth however her luck ran out.
Day led off the frame and reached on an error by the Granville shortstop. Fredenhdall then singled up the middle and advanced to second on the throw into the infield. With runners on second and third and nobody out Watson stepped to the plate and hit a hard shot through the hole on the left side of the infield.
Her game-winning hit touched off a joyous celebration just behind home plate.
The path the Pioneers are on is one similar to one McGrew watched closely a year ago.
“I followed Granville, after we lost last year,” he said. “They played Hartley last year. I think it was a district semifinal, they were tight and had to come from behind to win. They went on to make it all the way to the state tournament. This team (Alder) had no experience in the district, we got here last year and were tight, played one game and we were going home. This year we were tight in the semifinal, but we battled and found a way to come back and win.
“As coaches we told them ‘don’t change anything, don’t do anything different, let’s keep it loose.’ They were loose today, they were singing on the bus ride over. They played loose and it paid off.”
The victory was the Pioneers’ 25th straight and guaranteed them a spot in the D-II regional semifinal against Springfield Northwestern (28-3) at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 29, at Mason High School.
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 18 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.