FAIRBORN — The 2010 season came to an abrupt halt for the Highland High School softball team Saturday afternoon. Facing the West Liberty-Salem Tigers in the Division III Regional Final at Wright State University, the potent Scot offense putted along and the Tigers scratched out a 2-0 victory.
With the win, West Liberty-Salem advances to the Division III State Semifinals on Friday at Firestone Stadium in Akron. The Tigers are making their second trip in the last three years.
“Last time we went to state, we were just happy to be there,” said West Liberty-Salem coach Lanay Detwiler. “This time, we are going to win it. We have a different mindset. (Highland) gave us a game, but we are still playing, and that’s the main thing.”
The Tigers outhit the Scots, 12-6, getting a 3-for-4 performance from Emily Detwiler. Detwiler had a single, a double and a triple, and scored both runs. Krista Chapman and Abby Keen each picked up two hits for the Scots, and McKenzi Rhodes had Highland’s only extra-base hit — a double to lead off the second inning.
Highland had opportunities to score throughout the game, but could never get the timely hit it needed off Tiger starter Alyssa Neff. In all, the Scots left nine runners on base, and went in order just once in the game. Neff struck out nine.
“It is definitely a tough loss because the girls played really, really well,” said Highland coach Enid Claxon. “They should definitely be proud of themselves. We were definitely the underdogs coming in and we played a great game.
“We have an offense where once one of us gets going, we all get going. It just never caught on today. … We were getting hits, just not together.”
The Tigers plated a run in the bottom of the first inning after Detwiler doubled down the left-field line. After a groundout, Kaitlyn Kite smacked a double to left, scoring Detwiler for a 1-0 lead.
It looked like West Liberty-Salem might add to it the bottom of the second, loading the bases of Cassie Brown with one out. Highland got out of the jam with a fielder’s choice force out at home plate and a groundout to Shayla Pierce at second base.
The Tigers added their second run in the bottom of the fifth. Detwiler led off with a triple to right-center, and Abbey Ledford followed with an RBI single to left.
“The girls played tremendous defense,” said Claxon. “Holding them to two runs was a great job. … The third inning was a huge point in the game. It really showed the girls heart.”
After making a couple more stellar defensive plays in the bottom of the sixth, the Scots had one last chance to rally for the victory. Unlike their three previous games when they rallied in the top of the seventh inning for wins, the Scots came up short. Abby Keen hit a one-out single, but Brown struck out for the third time in the game in the next at-bat. Chapman hit into a fielder’s choice that left both runners safe to keep the hopes alive, but Payton Denman flied out to center to end the effort.
“After that big hit by Abby, I was confident because we had the heart of our lineup coming up,” said Claxon. “I was fully prepared to score some runs, but it just didn’t happen. … Our luck kind of ran out.”
For the Scots, winners of their first district championship, this is a building block. Highland has just one senior — Chapman — so Claxon expects more from her team in the years to come.
“Each one of these girls absolutely loves the sport of softball, so they will be coming back next year ready to fight, ready to get one step further, one step closer to that state title.
“Chappie is a huge asset to the team. The girls really looked up to her since she was our one senior. She kind of influenced our sophomores, encouraging them all the time.”