AKRON — Lost and not found.
All season long the Jonathan Alder High School softball coach Dave McGrew was hoping to see the same team defensively in a game that he saw every day in practice.
However during a Division II state semifinal Thursday in Akron’s Firestone Stadium, the elusive “clean game” the coach was desiring wasn’t meant to be as his squad committed three errors and had a couple other defensive miscues that ultimately came back to haunt it in a 5-4 loss to Beloit West Branch.
The Lady Pioneers (21-7) despite their mistakes had chances to win the game, including having a pair of runners on base in the top of the seventh inning but failed to plate a run.
“These girls have battled all year, we’ve played one of the toughest schedules,” McGrew said. “This team has been resilient and we’ve been winning despite not putting that perfect defensive game together. We are fantastic on defense, but we just can’t lay that seven-inning game out there.
“That clean game, it didn’t happen in the regionals, I hoped that we were saving it for the state.”
Alder opened the scoring in the top of the second inning when Katelyn Perkins singled to left and the ball got past the defender allowing Perkins to advance to second. April Wagner came in to run for the Pioneers starting pitcher. She scored on an RBI single by sophomore Cierra Clark, making it 1-0 Alder.
The score remained that way until the home half of the third inning when West Branch took advantage of its scoring opportunity.
Perkins got the Warriors’ Riley Mesley to groundout and appeared to had done the same to Hannah Sprague. But an illegal pitch was called negating the play. Sprague was able to work the count and draw a walk, she was sacrificed to second, bringing junior Grace Heath to the plate.
Heath hit a shot to centerfield that Alder’s Emily Potter was unable to haul in. She drop stepped over one shoulder, had to spin around and couldn’t recover quick enough to catch the ball. The result of the hit was a triple and tied the game at 1-1.
Duke University signee Kylie Coffelt next came to the plate and delivered a 2-run home run over the fence in left for a 3-1 Warriors advantage.
“We had one ball misjudged in the outfield and they scored three runs in that inning,” McGrew said. “I take nothing from them. They did what they’re supposed to do, but that was the third out. My outfielder came up to me and said ‘that’s my fault, that was the third out.’ She said she misjudged it, what are you going to do?”
A fielding error by Perkins in the top of the fourth allowed the Warriors’ Delaney Rito to reach first base. She advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and moved to third on an error by Alder second baseman Angela Brandel. Sprague delivered the two-out RBI single and gave her team a 4-1 lead.
All five of the West Branch runs in the game were scored with two outs.
The Lady Pioneers finally got their bats going in the fifth inning. Kelsey McDonald singled and Olivia McCoy followed with a walk. Sophie Thomas came to the plate and attempted a sacrifice bunt, but she was called out for stepping out of the batters box. Potter popped out to the catcher, but Emily Walker delivered a bases clearing 2-run triple, her second triple of the game.
“I’ve been struggling with timing pitchers up lately so I’ve been working on seeing pitches deep and it helped,” Walker said.
Jillian Jakse came to the plate with Walker on third and a chance to tie the game but she flew out deep to centerfield, ending the inning.
In the top of the sixth inning Perkins walked, Wagner again came in to run for her. Clark sacrificed her to second with a bunt and Brandel delivered an RBI single to right, tying the score at 4-4.
The Warriors would again answer right away.
After a flyout to center, Sprague walked and was sacrificed to second with a bunt. Heath came to the plate and popped up behind the plate. Alder catcher Caitlin Craig could not find the ball quick enough as it landed in foul territory. A couple pitches later Heath delivered an RBI single to give her team a 5-4 lead.
The Pioneers mounted one last rally in the seventh. Thomas reached on an infield single, Potter sacrificed her to second. Walker drew a walk bringing Jakse to the plate. West Branch coach Sis Woods opted to go back to her starting pitcher Kelsey Byers in order to pitch to the heart of the Alder lineup. She proceeded to strike Jakse out looking and then got Perkins the same way to end the game.
“We didn’t have our hitting game either,” McGrew said. “We didn’t hit like we’ve been hitting, we were slow on our adjustments. But you know our girls were resilient, I would have took us in that last inning with where we were every day.”
“That’s a good team, at this point they’re all good teams,” McGrew said. ”It would be a crime for me to sit up here and say we shouldn’t have won this game. We should have. I won’t take anything away from them, they’re a fantastic team. They’re well coached, they’re a class act.”
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.
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