The raindrops that fell from the sky could not camouflage the teardrops on the faces of several Elizabethtown softball players Sunday afternoon at John Hardin High School.
The Lady Panthers had their season end with a 7-4 setback to Marion County in the semifinals of the 5th Region Tournament.
“Obviously, it feels bad for the season to end like this,” said Elizabethtown junior left fielder Natalie Shaw, who led the offensive effort with two doubles, a single and three runs batted in. “But I’m proud of the way this team played all year.”
The Lady Panthers weren’t eliminated without giving Marion County all it could handle. But the Lady Knights were able to deliver the more telling blows.
The knockout punch came in the sixth inning when Marion County broke through for three runs off seventh-grade pitcher Taytum Spiers.
With one out, Mary Beth Overstreet drove Spiers’ 100th pitch of the game into left field for a double. Alexis Wheeler walked and both runners advanced on a wild pitch.
Cleanup hitter Emma Sullivan, who led the team with three hits and three RBIs, singled to score Overstreet to give the Lady Knights the lead for good at 5-4.
Amber Farris added two insurance runs with a triple to right field for the 7-4 advantage.
“This game is on me as far as my pitch calling,” said Elizabethtown coach Jimmy Schmidt. “I could have done a much better job with that part of the game. Taytum pitched her heart out … the whole team played hard.”
Also, “give credit to Marion County,” Schmidt added. “They made the plays when they had to.”
Elizabethtown wasn’t without its opportunities, holding leads of 3-1 and 4-3 before succumbing to the pivotal sixth inning.
Trailing 1-0, the Lady Panthers reached Marion County starting pitcher Gracyn Mattingly for three runs in the bottom of the second inning.
Emil Schmidt drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on an infield single from Kayla Braden.
Shaw stepped up and hammered a two-run double to left-center field. She scored on a single by Hannah Riley for a 3-1 lead.
“We knew it was important to come out early and get a lead to give us momentum and keep our confidence up,” Shaw said. “We just couldn’t hang on to that for the entire game.”
Marion County rallied to tie the game at 3 on a two-run double from Sullivan in the top of the third.
Then came a key moment in the bottom of the fourth inning when the Lady Panthers took their final lead.
Shaw, facing reliever Jordan Browning, kept her hot bat going with a double to score Kylie McKinney, who had reached on a one-out single.
Riley stepped to the plate and ripped a one-hop shot that appeared to cross the third base bag in fair territory, but the umpire ruled the ball foul. Browning would strike Riley out to end the inning and save at least one run.
“It was fair, but I will never blame officiating for the outcome of the game,” Jimmy Schmidt said. “I don’t believe games are determined by one pitch or one play. … We had other chances to make plays to turn the game. We just didn’t execute in those situations.”
The Lady Panthers had opportunities in the final two innings, too.
In the sixth, McKinney hit a one-out double. With two outs, the Lady Knights elected to intentionally walk Shaw, and it paid off as Riley flied out to center to end the inning.
“I wish I had the chance to make something happen again,” Shaw said. “But at the same time, it’s a positive feeling to know you have that kind of respect from the other team.”
As the rain began to fall in the bottom of the seventh inning, Elizabethtown put two runners on but could not get them home.
Elizabethtown finished the season at 19-11 and won the 17th District Tournament. The Lady Panthers graduate only two seniors and return eight starters and all of their pitchers.
“It was a great experience this year for these girls,” Jimmy Schmidt said. “Their best softball is still ahead of them. I look for great things in the offseason and am confident these girls will be in this position next year to win a region championship.”