Philipsburg-Osceola’s Jim Gonder had the exact scenario he would have drawn up if he could have.
Bases loaded, no outs, his Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters coming up in the bottom of the seventh inning, with his team trailing by two runs in a District 6 Class AA semifinal game.
Central coach Dale Walters, on the other hand, found himself with a pitching dilemma. He had pulled starter Brooke Albright after she had allowed a leadoff homer to Haylee Hayward and replaced her with Lexi Ritchie, his usual starter who had just returned to school Thursday after missing the previous two days due to illness. But Ritchie gave up a single, two walks and left with the bases loaded and no outs.
Walters had no choice but to bring Albright back into the game to try to save it.
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So he had one pitcher who was out of gas and another who was running on fumes.
“Brooke was out of gas so I figured I’d roll the dice and try to get through one inning with Lexi,” he explained. “But Lexi had been sick since the Bald Eagle game (Monday) and I knew she didn’t have much in the tank.
“ I asked Brooke if she could go back in and she said she had a little bit left in the tank.”
Just enough to lead the 11th-seeded Lady Dragons to their second upset of the week as they knocked off second-seeded P-O 11-10 after taking out third-seeded BEA on Monday.
“What an effort by Brooke,” Walters said. “That’s the longest she has gone in a game. She pitched mostly in relief all year.”
“Coach came to me and asked me if I had anything left,’’ Albright said. “I said I had a little if I dug deep. I knew Lexi had been sick so when the time came to do the job I knew it was going to have to be me.”
When she left the game the Lady Dragons were ahead 11-7 after Hayward’s homer to dead center. When she came back Abby Showers was on third and Chelsey Henry and Jayde Burge were on first and second with walks. Albright then walked Hannah Thompson, hit Kylie Thal and walked Maggie Peck to force in three runs. And draw P-O within a run, 11-10.
But then she struck out Megan Bainey, got Mackenzie Burge to pop out to short and retired Hayward on a fielder’s choice that was hit sharply to short and Marissa Snyder threw to third for the game-ending out.
“I saw the ball was hit hard and I figured if she scored it was well-deserved,”Albright said. “But I couldn’t ask for a better defense behind me. They did the job. This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had from a sport.”
There’s no doubt it was one of the better games anyone in the large crowd that ringed the field and endured a miserable nagging rain to watch the ebb and flow of the battle had seen. Or will see.
Not when you consider that the Lady Mounties battled back from a 9-1 deficit at the end of three innings to get within a single of tying, or winning the game in the last inning.
“That was one for the books,” said P-O coach Jim Gonder. “With all of the things that happened we still had a chance at the end. No matter what I say it’s going to be bittersweet. This is not where we envisioned being. But I’m proud of the effort out kids gave. When we had the bases loaded, none out and our two, three, four hitters coming up I felt confident. But their pitcher made a good pitch. If that ball Hayward hit was one foot more to the right, who knows what would have happened.
“I just can’t say how proud I am of these kids, how they fought and fought. We got a lot of clutch hits today. We were right where we wanted to be at the end but it just didn’t work out.”
Central, which lost both regular season games to P-O including a 9-2 loss on April 30, served notice early that it would not be intimidated by the favored Lady Mounties, scoring twice in the first on a walk to Snyder, singles by Lexi Ritchie and Jenna Berzansky and an error in center field on Berzanksy’s hit.
P-O answered in the bottom of the inning when Bainey tripled to right center and scored on Mackenzie Burge’s infield out. But the Lady Dragons were just getting warmed up. In the third inning they exploded.
They started the inning with a single by Rachel Reed, a walk to Snyder nd a single by Lezi Ritchie. Berzansky singled and two outs later Albright had an RBI single. Cassidi Barnes reached on an error to load the bases and Olivia Smith homered off the scoreboard in center field to make it 9-1.
But P-O chipped away at the lead, scoring three times in the bottom of the inning when Maggie Peck drew a lead off walk and Bainey homered to dead center. Mackenzie Burge followed with a single, took second on a wile pitch, and scored on an error. P-O left runners at first and third when Albright got Henry on a pop-up to first, Jayde Burge on a fly to right and Hannah Thompson on a pop fly to first.
Central scored what proved to be the winning runs in the fourth off reliever Morgan Thompson when Snyder and Lexi Ritchie hit back-to-back singles, and Berzanksy, Darbi Boyles and Albright drew walks before Barnes flew out to right.
Again, P-O battled back as Hayward singled and Showers homered to left to make it 11-6.
Central turned in the defensive play of the game in the sixth when P-O had runners on first and second with two outs and Mackenzie Burge hit what looked like a sharp single to right. But Boyles, who made a great catch in Monday’s 3-1 win over BEA, charged the ball, fielded it on the first hop and fired to first to get Burge on a bang-bang play that saved at least one run and probably the game.
“When she hit it I was hollering ‘One, one, one,” said Walters. “I was afraid my first baseman wouldn’t get there. It was hit hard and I knew we had a chance.”
The Lady Dragons finished the day with 11 hits of Peck and Morgan Thompson while P-O had 10 hits off Albright and Ritchie.
“When I was coaching at third I told Haylee (P-O third baseman Hayward), ‘We could score 35 runs and you guys would still make me nervous,’” Walters said. “I was really pleased with the way we hit. We knew we had to score in double digits to beat them. We were very aggressive with our bats early.
“This might be the most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of. We tell the kids every day that whether you want to be a district champion or a state champion, the road runs through Bald Eagle and P-O. Those are the teams you have to beat if you want to take the next step. They are so solid, so well coached and that’s where we want to be.”