PICKERINGTON — As a team enters tournament play, a coach can only ask that his leaders make the plays needed to help the team out. A big, clutch play from one of those leaders may be the difference between winning and going home.
Danville coach Mike Beheler watched Monday as his leaders stepped up big time, leading the Blue Devils to a 5-2 victory over Millersport in the Division IV District semifinals at Pickerington Central High School.
Junior catcher Kayleigh Conner made the biggest plays on the night for the Devils (9-11), driving in two runs, scoring once and making a crucial defensive play to stop a Millersport rally.
“That’s what Kayleigh does. She’s a clutch catcher as well. Both offensively and defensively, she did it tonight,” said Beheler.
Conner drove in the first run of the game for the Devils, then singled in Tracy Payne with the second run and scored the go-ahead run off a hit from Hannah Matheny in the fifth inning. Those two runs in the fifth gave Danville a 3-2 lead.
Millersport (12-15) tried to mount a comeback in the bottom half of the fifth when Conner stepped up again. The Lakers had a runner on second base with Miranda Smith at the plate with two outs. Smith had belted a two-run home run in the third inning for Millersport’s only runs.
Conner caught Millersport’s Rachael Pohlman too far off second base, firing a strike to Ashley Townsend, who then nabbed Pohlman as she headed to third.
“I called the play, which my second baseman, Ashley, always wants to do but I get hesitant,” Conner said. “We did it tonight. She was there and finished the play off with our third baseman, Molly Pugh. It was big because the girl that was up hit a home run before, so that was a key out.”
“That was huge. They had their best hitter up and we caught them sleeping. That was a big, big, big play,” said Beheler.
Danville was able to get a little breathing room in the seventh, as it scored two runs to make it 5-2. Payne started the inning off with a runner when she was hit by a pitch and moved to second on a wild pitch. Conner sacrificed Payne to second, and then Matheny reached on a fielder’s choice. A walk to Shelbi Gonzalez loaded the bases up and Morgan Lauderbaugh brought home two runs with a sharp single to center field. A walk by Townsend loaded the bases again, but Millersport was able to get out of the inning without any more damage.
“I told them I was way too nervous out there. Three to two did not sit well. I said, ‘At least get me one,’ and they got me two. I wasn’t quite so uptight when it was 5-2, but they (Millersport) put up a fight until the very end. They never died and made us earn it,” Beheler said.
The Lakers attempted a two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh, getting a walk and a single, but Matheny was able to coax a groundout from Pohlman to end the threat and send the Devils on to the district finals.
Conner finished the day with two singles and two RBI to lead the Blue Devils. Lauderbaugh added a two-run single, while Payne, Matheny and Katelyn Mills all singled. Defensively, Trisha Pattison made a nice running catch in right field for the Devils.
Matheny allowed just three hits and four walks on the night, while striking out seven batters.
“You’ve got to give Hannah a lot of credit. She came back after that home run and settled down,” Conner said.
Smith’s home run led the Lakers. Pohlman added a double and Sierra McClurg a single.
The Devils will again face Berne Union, a 4-2 winner over Newark Catholic, in the district finals. The game will be Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Pickerington Central. The two teams battled last year with Danville taking home the crown en route to the state title.
“Berne Union is much better than last year. It will be a real challenge,” Beheler said. “The keys to us winning are, we have to limit our mistakes and we can’t strike out like we did tonight.
“Yes, we had some clutch hits, but we put a lot more on the board if we put the ball in play. Berne Union will make us pay for the mistakes we made today.”