When it comes to marquee softball games this season, not many can compare to the match up Wednesday evening in Sugarcreek. A pair of teams battling for the Inter-Valley Conference crown, Garaway versus Sandy Valley. Each team entered the game with 16-2 records. Both teams entered the game with a single conference loss. The Pirates conference loss occurred last week against Strasburg. The Cardinals lone conference loss was due to a stunning 6 run rally in the 7th inning by the Pirates, three weeks ago.
Round two of the series went to the #6 state ranked Pirates, only this time is was the Cardinals who nearly completed a remarkable comeback.
Entering the game, the Pirates knew they would have to score a lot of runs if they hoped to come away with a win. There aren’t very many teams in the East District that can match the firepower Sandy Valley brings to the plate. Fortunately, the Pirates had a bit of power in their own arsenal.
Chelsi Rothacher started off the bottom of the first, for the Pirates, reaching on an error. A bunt single by Zoe Johnson put runners on first and second for Kaitlyn Stress. Stress attempted a couple bunts to move the runners over but was unable to keep the ball in play. Down two strikes in the count, she found an even better way to move the runners.
Kaitlyn Stress sent the next pitch to the opposite field and deposited the ball over the left field fence. It was the first home run of the season for the lefty slugger. “It felt good to come up clutch and help the team” said Stress. “When it’s a big rivalry game that we need to win, every at bat is going to count and make a difference in the game.” Stress definitely made that at bat count, sending her team and the huge home crowd into an uproar as the Pirates took a 3-0 lead.
The Pirates had barely settled down when Kassidy Reidenbach dropped a double into left field. Kallie Regula entered the game to run for Reidenbach. Sandy Valley pitcher Makayla Loveless finally picked up the first out of the inning when Luneborg was called out on a close play at first base. Regula moved over to third and eventually scored on a single by Hannah Halstead to spot the Pirates a four run lead after one inning of play.
Defensive issues plagued Garaway throughout the game as the Pirates committed 4 errors and allowed several Cardinal runners to move up a base on passed balls and wild pitches. It was those types of plays that allowed Sandy Valley to creep back into the game.
Mandi Williams led off the 2nd inning for the Cardinals with a single down the left field line. Williams moved over to second on a bunt then reached third on a wild pitch. With two outs, the Pirates committed their first error of the game, allowing Sandy Valley to score a run.
Sandy Valley cut the lead to 4-2 in the third inning. Meg Otte ripped a single to start off the inning and then moved to second on a ground out. A passed ball that allowed Otte to move to third base, proved costly when she scored on a single by Arianna Ott.
Garaway came to bat in the third clinging to a two run margin. That margin was about to increase thanks to a freshman who picked the right time to show off a little bit of her power.
Kaitlyn Stress reached first base to lead off the inning, thanks to a ball hitting her square in the back. Reidenbach attempted to move Stress over with a bunt; however, Loveless made an outstanding play, diving to snag the ball before it reached the ground. Loveless had Stress doubled up at first base but threw the ball into right field, allowing Stress to move over to second base. Allison Luneborg followed with a hard grounder to Cardinal third baseman Alyssa Sines. Sines faked a throw to first, catching Stress off second base. Stress was eventually thrown out in the quick rundown.
A single by Halstead put a pair of Pirates on base ahead of Cassy Donaldson. Donaldson, who had struck out on three pitches her first at bat, had this to say after the game. “I wanted to redeem myself for striking out my first at bat.” This time around Donaldson took her time, working the count in her favor. With two balls and no strikes, Donaldson crushed the next pitch over the center field fence for her first varsity home run. “I realized it was out when I heard everyone cheering, especially Coach” stated the jubilant freshman. “As I was rounding the bases I started to feel very excited about my first varsity home run. I was excited to hit it and help the team get the win.”
The Pirates were now up 7-2 and appeared to be on their way to a huge win over a team that has proven to be their fiercest rival. Garaway increased the lead to 8-2 with another run in the fourth inning. Back-to-back singles by Johnson and Stress put runners on 2nd and 3rd. Reidenbach followed with fundamental hitting straight out of the text book. Softball 101 says, with a runner on third and less than two outs, hit a grounder to second base to score the run. That’s exactly what Reidenbach did. It would prove to be an important run.
Down 8-2, Sandy Valley mustered a come-back that eventually ended with the tying run coming to the plate. Arianna Ott led off the 6th inning with a single. Three consecutive errors by the normally steady Pirate defense allowed the Cardinals to cut the lead in half, 8-4.
The Pirates went down in order in the bottom of the 6th. Sandy Valley’s last chance was now in the hands of their top of the order. Ohio State commit, Meg Otte started off the inning smashing a double to the right field gap. Izzy Hysong followed with an RBI double. Pandemonium had broken out on the Cardinal side of the field as momentum shifted from one side to the other.
A pitching change took place and the Pirates turned to Allison Luneborg to preserve the win. Luneborg picked up a quick out with a fly ball to Sierra Slentz in right field. Luneborg struck out Arianna Ott, but Hysong moved over to third on the dropped third strike. Hysong scored on a passed ball, cutting the Pirate lead to 8-6. Mandi Williams lined a single to leftfield to keep the Cardinal hopes alive. With power hitter Kayla Campbell coming to the plate for the Cardinals, Sandy Valley was now only one swing away from tying the game. Campbell worked the count full before hitting a towering fly ball to right field, which Slentz caught to end the game.
The win gives Garaway a one game lead over Sandy Valley and the surprising Ridgewood Generals. Garaway will take on Ridgewood on Thursday at West Lafayette. Garaway now improves to 17-2.