Sometimes winning is as much about believing you can win.
To quote German poet Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe, “Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen.”
On Tuesday, May 16 in Sugarcreek during the Div. II district semifinal contest between number three seed River View and number four seed West Holmes, it would take a lot of belief for the Lady Knights to come roaring back from an 8-0 deficit.
The Lady Knights faith in themselves never wavered, and the result was a magical comeback ride that resulted in a stunning 9-8 win that sent them on to face Carrollton for the district crown.
Many team never finds the courage to come back when trailing 8-0 in the fifth inning. West Holmes’ players never questioned their commitment to each other as a team when facing the most unlikely of comebacks.
“It’s about a belief in what you can do,” said West Holmes coach Jaime Chenevey. “It’s a belief in your team. They understand their value as a complete group, and they don’t rely on just one person to do it. We have come back from some big deficits against some really good teams this year.”
None would be bigger and more important than this comeback to stave off elimination from the tournament.
The Black Bears had the Lady Knights right where they wanted them. River View had built an 8-0 lead on the strength of solid defense, pitcher Peyton Werntz’ ability to wriggle out of a couple of early jams, a pair of Lady Knights errors and a massive three-run shot over the left-field wall by slugging first-baseman Gracie Dunlap.
By many counts, few people on the West Holmes sideline gave the Lady Knights much of a prayer at that point.
However, the only people that mattered were the ones in the West Holmes dugout, and they had not given up hope.
West Holmes needed a lot to happen to get back in the game, and when they got something cooking at the bottom of the order, they got some help from a River View defense that had been really good up until the fifth.
Going into the inning, Werntz had been great, facing just two hitters over the minimum. However, an error and a single by Becca Vales to open the inning and a perfect bunt hit by Savannah Rogers laid the groundwork for a monster comeback. With the bases loaded, Maddie Woods reached on an error, and Callie Cline got aboard on yet another infield error when Wertz threw the come-backer to home and overthrew the catcher, making it 8-2. Up stepped Natalie Martin, who hit a Wertz offering over the wall in left for a grand slam that trimmed the Black Bears lead to 8-6, and suddenly it was game on again. West Holmes had appeared to have one foot in the grave, but somehow had not given up hope.
On Wertz’ behalf, not a single tally in the inning was earned, and just as importantly, Morgan Allen’s sharp single to left chased the River View starter. On came Alyssa Thomas who got out of the inning and then sailed through the sixth on a pair of strikeouts.
While West Holmes was coming back by storm, starter turned reliever Olivia Ferguson was pitching her heart out for West Holmes. River View had beaten her around in the early innings, and chased her in the third after a hit to start the inning, with Chenevey turning to Morganne Balder. Balder had control issues, hitting a batter, seeing her team commit an error then plunking another hitter prompting Chenevey to do something gutsy, in turning the mound work back over to Ferguson.
“Liv had been struggling, and I just went out to the mound and told her she has to forget it and give her all,” Martin said. “I think when she came back in, she had the mindset that she was not coming out again, and she was determined to do whatever she had to do to give us a chance.”
It took a little time for that to happen. She was greeted by an error and then after West Holmes shortstop Becca Vales made a really heady play, turning what looked like an error on third baseman Jazz Knapp into an out at third, Dunlap unleashed a monstrous three-run home run over the wall in left to make it 8-0.
However, Ferguson dug deep, and didn’t allow another run, although the Black Bears gave it their best shot. However, West Holmes’ defense was starting to step things up. Savannah Rogers made a great running catch in center, then an inning later she darted back to the fence, right in front of West Holmes’ baseball team’s cheering section, and robbed a home run with her back against the fence. She made one more tough catch in the sixth, and Vales made a sensational grab of a line shot that looked bound for left-field.
“We had some rough defensive innings, and we had some kids make mistakes, and those same kids turned around and made huge plays for us, to keep us in the game and take us over the top,” Chenevey said.
Ferguson and the defense had given the Lady Knights a chance. According to Chenevey, it would be up to her team to figure out how to get it done.
“We go into every game confident, and one of those beliefs is that we can hit the ball,” Vales said. “We kept pushing and never gave up. It would have been easy to give up, but we never did. Even down eight and down two going into the last inning, we all had the belief that we would figure out ow to get something done.”
How it was done was through a freshman group that has come up big all year. It started when Callie Cline ripped a double to the gap in right-center. Martin then laced a single, moving Cline to thirds, and with nobody out, took second base without a throw. Up stepped Knapp, another freshman, who hammered a shot to the wall in center for a double, tying the score at eight.
“I wanted to stay calm and trust my skills,” Knapp said. “I just tried to do what Chen always says in staying true to the fundamentals.”
West Holmes had come all the way back, but it wasn’t done. Another freshman, Morgan Allen, roped a single back through the middle to plate Knapp and give West Holmes a lead.
You just have to forget the nerves, step in and it the ball hard like you know you can,” Allen said of the hit. “That felt so great. There’s just no words for it, and for the way we came back.”
Now it was up to the Ferguson to try to stop a Black Bears team that knows how to score runs. She dug in, bared down and retired River View on a fly out to right, a pop-out to second and a close play at t first base, sending the Lady Knights into a most improbable victory celebration.
For River View, the ferocity of how quickly the loss came on was excruciating, and head coach Bonnie Infante said it was disappointing because of the way the Black Bears gave up the big lead with so many errors.
“When you don’t play ball, you’re not going to win,” Infante said. “We got relaxed and didn’t play ball. We knew we couldn’t leave the ball over the plate against this team or they would crush it, and they did. And when we don’t show up and play the way we know how to play, we’re not going to win.”
Everyone felt coming into this game that it could develop into a high-scoring affair because of the ability of both teams to hit. Yet while the bats were big, this one really came down to fielding, and while both teams struggled at times, the errors ended up proving to be extremely costly for the Black Bears in that fateful fifth inning that allowed West Holmes to creep back into contention.
The celebration that followed the final out for the Lady Knights showed just how much effort and belief they put into the game.
“It’s easily one of the best, most exciting comebacks we’ve had,” Chenevey said. “We’re never out of a game. Our bats can keep us in any game, if you don’t beat yourself and if you believe you can do it, you can come back. To never give up, that is impressive, I don’t care who you are. Top to bottom it was a team win.”