A magical run by the Highland softball team came to an end Wednesday evening at Wright State University.
After entering the postseason as the eighth seed in Division II of the Central District, the Scots pulled off four straight tournament wins — including victories over the seventh, second and first seeds in the bracket — to advance to a match-up against Springfield Kenton Ridge. Unfortunately, Highland would not be able to overcome that opponent. The Cougars held Highland to one hit and two baserunners over the course of seven innings in tallying a 5-0 victory that ended Highland’s season with a 14-12 record.
“She’s a heck of a pitcher,” said Highland coach Abby Steele of Kenton Ridge hurler Kylie Ropp. “She just painted her corners and hit the rise ball well. What you’re going to see in the regional semifinal game is some great pitching. Kate (Clements) came through, our freshman, with that hit, but it was a tough loss.”
Clements got her single with one out in the fourth inning and was able to advance to second base on a passed ball, but two straight pop-ups left her stranded. The Scots’ only other baserunner came in the seventh inning when Aubree Bellamy drew a two-out walk. However, Ropp responded with a strikeout to end the inning and Highland’s season.
Steele noted that an inability to generate offense made for a long day at Wright State, but felt that shouldn’t detract from what had been a great run.
“You want the pieces to fall in line and put things together and string those runs together,” she said. “It wasn’t in the cards today, which is tough for these girls. We’re thankful for our four seniors (Stevie Asher, Abbi Burke, Guinevere Jackson and Abby Jordan); that’s what I told the girls after the game. We relied on those four seniors a lot and they really led us through this tournament run. Coming in, we were barely .500 and we’re sitting in the Sweet 16. It’s a pretty fun thing to remember and a special place, especially since it’s only the second time in Highland’s history that we’ve made it this far.”
While Highland wasn’t able to light up the scoreboard, they were able to also keep the Cougars off it for the first couple innings. Asher struck out five batters over the first two frames — including two in a row in the first inning after Kenton Ridge had loaded the bases on a single and two walks.
Kenton Ridge would get on the board in the third inning, though. With two outs, Brenna Fyffe reached on a fielding error and would be driven in by a Kyleigh Schnitzler double to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
They would take advantage of additional Scot mistakes in the fourth inning to gain some breathing room. Natalee Fyffe led off with a single and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt. Dakotah Timmons then singled and stole second to put runners on second and third base. A single by Kendall Massie drove in one run, with a second scoring when an attempt to throw home wasn’t cleanly fielded. A grounder by Kirsten Wright then made it 4-0 when another throw to home base got away.
Kenton Ridge made it 5-0 in the fifth inning when Annie Finchem led off with a triple and game home on a groundout by Natalee Fyffe.
After the game and her team’s season had ended, Steele was simply pleased with her players’ mindset in the tournament.
“That’s what I love about these girls,” she said. “On paper, they were called the underdogs, but in their mind they weren’t the underdogs. They went in with the ‘I’m going to win’ mentality. That’s something you can’t coach. They’ve just grown up in the community that we have and they’re so supportive of them. Yeah, it might have been on paper, but to them, they’re like, ‘No, we’re going to fight; we’re going to win this district championship’ and they did.”
And now that the younger players have gotten a lot of postseason success this year, the coach is hoping that translates to future seasons.
“That’s what our assistant coach (Gar) Keen said, too,” she said. “He talked to the juniors, sophomores and freshmen and told them that you guys have got a taste of this and you have to run with it. And that’s what you want to see when you’re building a program — this growth in the program and seeing these girls get a taste of regionals and being able to take that into the next season and how they go with it.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS