MASON — Kayla Fredendall hit a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to lead Jonathan Alder to a 5-3 regional championship victory over Greenville and a berth in the state final four.
Facing a 1-2 count with two outs and Lindsey Potter standing on third, Fredendall cranked a pitch over the right field wall to give the Pioneers the victory in Saturday’s regional championship game in Mason.
“I’m numb right now, man,” Jonathan Alder softball coach Dave McGrew said. “I’m numb. I’m numb. I’m numb.”
With the win Jonathan Alder advances to play in the state final four for the second time in program history. The Pioneers advanced to state back in 2014 when Fredendall was a freshman.
“I couldn’t believe they pitched to her,” McGrew said of Fredendall’s home run on Saturday. “She hit two home runs in the regional semi. I really couldn’t believe they pitched to her. I mean you had first and second open. I thought for sure they were going to walk her, but I thought (Emily) Walker would have got the hit. And then if they had a mistake there they didn’t want (Jillian) Jakse. Our top three I’d put against anybody in the state. I love our team, man. I just love our team. Wow. I’m ready to go celebrate with them.”
At the beginning of the season it wasn’t clear that the Pioneers were capable of this type of performance. They entered the season very inexperienced because of players lost to graduation but progressed a lot throughout the year.
“We graduated all those stud four-year starters, couple three-year starters,” McGrew said. “We lost seven starters from last year’s team. We had all these younger kids come in. We’ve got a big pitcher (Katelyn Perkins) back. We had our catcher, Kayla, back, and we’ve got Chloe (Grove) at third.”
While the team was very inexperienced and had a lot of holes to fill, McGrew credited what he calls the best coaching staff in the state with preparing the Pioneers for this moment.
“To see where it’s come,” he said, “oh, my gosh. I’m numb right now. Numb!”
Early on in Saturday’s game against Greenville, who was playing in the regional finals for a third consecutive year, it looked like Jonathan Alder was in trouble.
Morgan Gilbert led off the game with a triple off the center field wall and scored on a grounder by Karsyn Shaffer to put Greenville up 1-0.
Cassie Cromwell then reached base when her grounder careened off the glove of a Jonathan Alder infielder, and moments later she scored on a Makayla Hanes double that put Greenville ahead 2-0.
Despite giving up a couple quick runs, Perkins and her defense remained calm and limited Greenville to just one run over the next eight innings.
“She has battled,” McGrew said of his pitcher. “She’s battled in every kind of game. She’s battled a stiff back this year, a little shoulder. We’ve had to shut her down, and she was ready to fight to not be shut down. She threw a good one there. That’s one of the best-coached teams in the world right there. I mean, in Division II I know they are. Storied franchise, and they’ll be back — they’re always here. But KP … wow. They scored, she rolled up the sleeves and held them down, and our defense played, too.”
Greenville maintained its advantage until the third inning when Jonathan Alder scored three runs to take its first lead of the day.
Cierra Clark started the Jonathan Alder rally with a leadoff single.
Fredendall then drove a ball into right field. Greenville right fielder Lani Shilt had the ball in her glove but dropped it after slamming into the wall. An umpire initially called Fredendall out but altered his call as the ball rolled out of Shilt’s glove, causing confusion among the Pioneer base runners, which allowed Greenville to throw out Clark at second.
Greenville coach Jerrod Newland protested that Fredendall had passed Clark on the base paths, which would have resulted in a double play, but the umpires stuck with their call that Clark was out on a force at second and Fredendall was safe at first.
The decision turned out to be a big one as Walker singled to put two runners on base and Jakse cranked a three-run home run over the left field wall — her first home run of the season — to put Jonathan Alder up 3-2.
“She’s been straight, steady,” McGrew said of Jakse, who is hitting over .500 and has set the program’s single season RBI record. “She’s setting the Jonathan Alder for RBIs this year, which she added to today as a freshman.”
Greenville, which hasn’t played from behind very often this season, was able to rebound and tie the game in the fifth inning.
Shaffer led off the inning with an infield single and Crowell doubled off the right field wall to put two runners in scoring position with no outs.
Hanes then drilled a pitch back up the middle off the pitcher’s glove, driving in Shaffer and knotting the score at 3-3. However, Jonathan Alder was able to quickly recover and threw out Cromwell at home and Hanes at second for a double play, greatly reducing the potential damage.
Over the course of the next three innings both teams missed opportunities to retake the lead with Greenville stranding five runners and Jonathan Alder stranding four. That all changed in the ninth inning, though.
Potter led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and stole second. Greenville managed to retire the next two batters and was one strike away from forcing a 10th inning when Fredendall hit the game-winning home run.
“Just incredible, man,” McGrew said. “Incredible. Incredible.”
Jonathan Alder advances to play Hebron Lakewood — the state’s No. 1 ranked team — at 3 p.m. Friday at Akron Firestone Stadium in the semifinals of the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tournament. The winner will advance to the Division II state championship game on Saturday, June 3.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.