PICKERINGTON — Since sports were first invented, coaches have been prodding players to compete as hard as possible until the very end. No matter what the score, they feel that there’s a chance their team could win the game if everybody continues to give their best effort until the final out is made or the clock strikes zero.
The Highland softball team heeded that advice Wednesday, coming from behind three times, including a three-run rally in the final inning, to beat Columbus Bishop Ready, 8-6, in the Division III District semifinals at Pickerington Central.
“That was just a fabulous job. I could not be prouder of the girls. They never gave up,” said Highland coach Enid Claxon.
The Scots, trailing 6-5 through six innings, scored three times in the top of the seventh inning to grab the victory. After Krista Chapman was called out for stepping out of the box when she hit the ball, Payton Denman followed with a single. Jessie Stewart flew out and the Scots were down to their final out. McKenzie Rhodes and Katie Johnson then showed off their patience at the plate, both drawing walks from Ready pitcher Katie Ardrey.
Jamie Eplin smoked a liner back up the middle that Ardrey got a glove on, but it still trickled into the outfield and the Scots had tied the game. Shayla Pierce followed with a grounder to third, but Ready’s Sam Curry threw it into right field, allowing two runs to score and giving Highland the lead for good.
“I was a little nervous (in the final inning), but at the same time had confidence in the girls,” Claxon said. “It was an icky situation, but the girls never gave up. ... Everything turned out well.”
Highland (19-9) got on the board first, scoring when Cassie Brown led off the game with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Chapman.
But, Ready (15-10) came back with two runs of its own in the bottom of the first to take the lead.
The Scots knotted the game at 2 in the fourth inning on a wild exchange. Rhodes led off the inning with a single, and moved to third on two wild pitches. With two outs, Pierce stepped out of the box despite not getting time called by the home plate umpire. Ready pitcher Katie Ardrey started her motion, then stopped when she saw Pierce out of the box. She was called for the balk and Rhodes was awarded home.
“We started off hitting well. We hit it hard, had some hard outs. I had a good feeling. When we hit the ball, we tend to play well,” Claxon said.
Ready regained the lead in the bottom half of the inning when Lindsey Kusan belted a home run to left field.
Highland mounted the second of its comebacks in the fifth inning, scoring three times to take a 5-3 lead. Brown had a one-out walk and moved to third on a double by Chapman. Stewart then drove both of them home with a single, moving all the way to third when the outfielder’s throw home got away from the catcher. Rhodes followed with a double to plate Stewart.
Ready responded with three runs in the bottom of the sixth and had opportunities for more. But, third baseman Stewart threw out a runner at the plate and Brown coaxed a groundout to shortstop Abby Keen with the bases loaded to end the threat. Brown struck out two in a quick seventh inning to grab the victory.
Brown finished the night with seven strikeouts, while allowing three walks and 11 hits to the Silver Knights.
“Cassie did a fabulous job. This game was one of her most strikeouts. And for her to end the game on her changeup (a called third strike), that was fabulous. That pitch had been working well all night,” Claxon said.
Brown, Chapman and Rhodes had a single and a double each to lead the Scots. Stewart drove in two runs with her single, and Denman, Eplin and Pierce all singled.
The Scots will now face Northridge, a 2-0 winner over River Valley, in the district finals on Friday at 5 p.m. at Pickerington Central.
“I feel like we have some great momentum going for us. I feel as long as we put the ball in play and score some runs, we’ll be all right,” Claxon said.
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