AKRON — After flirting with disaster for much of the game Saturday, the Clear Fork softball team finally ran out of lives.
Hamilton Ross kept pecking away at the Colts all game long before finally breaking through in the fifth inning and went to a 4-2 win in the Division II State Championship game at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
“Wow. That’s all I can say,” said Clear Fork coach Jeff Gottfried. “Sure, I would have loved to have been on the winning end of things, but I think it finally hit us. We’d been battling all year long and beat some tough teams. It just finally caught up with us.
“You’ve got to give Ross credit. They battled. That’s what good teams do. That is what a state championship softball game should be like.”
The Colts (29-5) had jumped on teams early all year long, but on Saturday, it looked like the tables would be turned on them. Ross (26-7) had four hits in the first inning, but were unable to score any runs. A great throw by freshman shortstop Katie Palmer nabbed a Ross runner at the plate and then the Colts benefited from a baserunning error to get out of the inning. Ross catcher Nell Wilson was hit by a batted ball between second and third base, causing the third out of the inning.
“We were like a cat with nine lives. They got four hits in the first inning and didn’t score,” Gottfried said.
The Rams got to Clear Fork pitcher Rachel Wilson again in the third, getting a single, walk and a fielder’s choice to load the base up. But, second baseman Becca Mottayaw was able to get the lead runner at the plate on a hard-hit grounder and Rachel Wilson struck out another batter to end the threat.
After going quietly the first three innings, the Colts got things going offensively in the fourth.
Palmer got the inning started with a single and moved to second on another single by Taylor Thomas. A sacrifice bunt by Mottayaw put runners on second and third with just one out. Shary Pullem knocked in a run on a grounder the second baseman was unable to make the play on, and then Thomas scored on a sacrifice fly by Morgan Ruhl. Pullem was out at the plate on a grounder back to the mound to end the inning.
“For our kids to come out and take the lead, I could not have been prouder,” Gottfried said.
The Colts looked like they might add to the lead in the fourth as Jessica Perkins got on with a single and moved to third on an error. But, she left early on a fly ball by Palmer and was called out.
The excitement from that play was all Ross needed. The Rams jumped all over Wilson and the Colts in the fifth, scoring four runs on four hits. Shelby Richards started the rally off with a one-out walk. She then scored on a double by Kaitlyn Strunk, who scored on a double by Wilson. A single and an error by the left fielder allowed another run to score, and then a single by Gina Huff drove in the final run of the day.
“To get down like we did, we could easily have quit,” said Ross coach Paul Fernandez. “We came back right after the play where they made their big mistake. We knew we had to capitalize on it.”
The Colts and their fans weren’t ready to go home just yet, though.
Clear Fork got a leadoff single from Thomas in the sixth inning, followed by a single by Pullem. But, Thomas was thrown out at third by Ross right fielder Lydia Lakes to stop the threat as soon as it had started.
“I couldn’t be more prouder of the kids. They gave it their all,” Gottfried said. “It’s momentum. When momentum gets rolling, it’s like a snowball and builds up. We did all we could do. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
“It’s been a great ride. We’ve beat a lot of good teams to get here. I told my 10-year-old daughter we weren’t going to wait another 29 years to get back here.”
Clear Fork was led by Thomas, who had three singles in three at bats. Palmer, Pullem and Perkins each added one single.
Ross got 10 hits on the night, including two each from Racheal Connaughton, Wilson and Brittany Fernandez.
Wilson struck out six and walked three to go along with giving up the 10 hits for Clear Fork.
“Rachel (Wilson) has not been hit that hard all year. I don’t think anyone’s had 10 hits on her,” said Gottfried. “Our kids hung in there and made some good plays. They (Ross) just hit the ball hard.”
Fernandez struck out five Clear Fork batters, while allowing six hits.