So very close: Late Warren rally comes up just short in D-10 title game
ERIE, Pa. – They’ll be back.
That was the sentiment among the Warren softball team moments after their 3-1 loss to Slippery Rock in the District 10 Class 4A championship game on a Memorial Day Monday at Penn State Behrend.
But man did they want this one.
And, despite spotting the Lady Rockets two unearned runs in the first inning, they almost got it, too.
“I told them that Slippery Rock just won the District 10 title, but I also told them I wouldn’t trade them for any group,” said Warren coach Jon Sitler. “We’re right there. We are so close to taking this. It just wasn’t our day.”
It wasn’t, until it almost was.
Despite Ellie Lobdell taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, the Lady Dragons trailed 3-0 going into the bottom of the seventh after an RBI single from The Rock’s Julianna Hutchinson in the sixth.
With two outs and no one on, things looked even more bleak. But, as Warren has done all season, they fought, right until the final pitch.
Julia Lobdell connected on the first pitch she saw with two outs, lacing a solid single to left off Slippery Rock pitcher Cheyenne Hindman.
The very next pitch, Lex Nyquist was hit, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of freshman Kelsey Stuart.
Her hit went just beyond the reach of Hindman, who batted it into foul territory trying to field it, loading the bases for Celia Chase.
The junior took three straight balls, looked at a strike, and then watched ball four out of the zone to get Warren on the board, putting the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on first for cleanup hitter Kiersten Hoffman.
Hoffman fouled off the first pitch, took a ball, and then put the ball in the air to left on the 1-1 offering, and the packed house at Behrend all held its breath.
The ball hung up just long enough, however, for Slippery Rock left fielder Taylor Balint to make the catch.
“Even down to the last swing, I thought that ball was going to drop,” Sitler said. “As soon as I turned, I wondered what she (Balint) was doing playing there. With this group, they can have six bad innings and I still think they’re going to come through in the seventh, and that’s a compliment to them.”
It was a situation born out of a first inning that saw Slippery Rock take advantage of two errors and a pair of wild pitches to take an early 2-0 lead.
Hindman and Balint both reached on miscues to start the game and a walk to Macy McCall loaded the bases with no outs.
The first wild pitch came with Hutchinson at-bat and the second with Brynn Horner at the plate. Lobdell was able to escape further damage by getting a strikeout and groundout to end the frame.
“When I came out to the mound (after the walk), I looked at a team that was super-charged,” Sitler said. “They were all pumped up, and I told them don’t let the moment get too big for you. I thought they did a good job of battling out of that and not giving up more runs.”
On the other hand, Warren was unable to catch a break.
They had exactly one hit in every inning, but were unable to string together a strong rally, thanks in large part to both Hindman and the stellar Rockets defense.
Nyquist led off the bottom of the first with a single and, after a sac bunt by Stuart, Hindman got a pair of strikeouts to end the inning.
In the second, Gracie Wood singled with one out and stole second, but again Hindman got out of it.
Stuart singled in the third, Wood again in the fourth, Hoffman in the fifth and Grace Wortman in the sixth, but each time Slippery Rock made the plays it needed to make.
In the sixth, Julia Lobdell put down a good bunt, but McCall was cat-like quick at third to nab Wortman at second on a fielder’s choice. It was one of several above average defensive plays she made.
“With Julia on that sac bunt, we told her to hit it to the right side, but it was an inside pitch,” noted Sitler. “I have not seen a third baseman play like her all year. Jordan (Sitler’s bunt in the fourth inning) was a great bunt and wasn’t even close to getting beat out. That hasn’t happened all year. She charges so hard that Kelsey Stuart’s bunt in the first inning almost went by her. Hats off to her, the left fielder (Balint) and the center fielder (Hannah Wilson). They played tremendous.”
Lobdell, despite giving up the two unearned runs, was brilliant, and her defense also turned some impressive plays, led by Wortman’s throw behind the plate that got Balint attempting to steal second to end the top of the third.
She didn’t allow a hit until Hindman’s leadoff double in the sixth, and she almost got out of that, were in not for Hutchinson’s clutch hit with two outs.
She struck out the side in the the fourth, and at one point struck out five in a row, finishing with 10 for the game.
“Ellie just doesn’t fold,” coach Sitler said. “I would stick with her from the beginning to the end. I believe in her.”
The Lady Dragons also struck out nine times at the plate, something that is uncharacteristic for them.
But credit where credit is due.
“That’s a good pitcher,” Sitler said of Hindman. “You have to tip your cap to her. That is a team peaking at the right moment.”
It was a tough pill to swallow for Warren, which out-hit Slippery Rock 8-2. But the Lady Dragons, who finished with a record of 15-5 and will return every starter next season, expect to be back.
“Something tells me we’re going to do it,” Sitler said. “It’s such a different atmosphere to know if you lose one game, you’re out. I thought we were on fire in the playoffs and I really think we turned the corner.”
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SLIPPERY ROCK (3)
Hindman p 3-2-1-0, Balint lf 3-1-0-0, McCall 3b 2-0-0-0, Hutchinson c 2-0-1-1, Horner ss 3-0-0-0, Duffy 2b 3-0-0-0, Wilson cf 3-0-0-0, Senge rf 3-0-0-0, Hart 1b 2-0-0-0, Totals 24-3-2-1
Nyquist ss 3-0-1-0, Stuart rf 3-0-1-0, Chase 1b 3-0-0-1, Hoffman 3b 4-0-1-0, E. Lobdell p 3-0-0-0, Munksgard cr 0-0-0-0, Wood cf 3-0-2-0, Sitler dp 3-0-0-0, Wortman c 3-0-1-0, J. Lobdell 2b 3-1-1-0, Wilson lf-flex 0-0-0-0, Totals 28-1-8-1
Slippery Rock 200 001 0 – 3 2 1
Warren 000 000 1 – 1 7 4
2B – Hindman (S); WP – Hindman; LP – E. Lobdell
Hindman 7 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 SO
E. Lobdell 7 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO