Cats thrive in underdog role en route to title victoryMay 25, 2018
By JONATHAN SAXON
PETERSBURG — They say there’s no crying in baseball, but the same “they” are noticeably silent when it comes to softball teams winning sectional titles.
In either case, no one would be upset at the Jasper softball team for shedding a few tears of joy after their tight 3-1 victory over the Pike Central Chargers on Thursday evening in the Class 3A sectional championship game. The game had its ebbs and flows, but when the dust settled and the last out was recorded, the Wildcats were able to emerge with their arms raised in victory and a sectional title to their name.
Jasper coach Matt Pryor faced the challenge of coaching a team without the benefit of last season’s contributors, a lot of whom have graduated and moved on to other endeavors in their lives. But even at the beginning of this season he knew he had a talented bunch and that their youth did not have to be a detriment. He and the team determined to grow together as a unit and make the most of what they had, even when expectations from others weren’t the highest.
“At the beginning of the year I don’t think a lot of people expected this,” he said. “We knew we had some athletes on the team. Their resilience throughout this game...I was ecstatic that the girls didn’t break.”
The Wildcats (18-9) figured they would have to jump out early coming into the game with the Chargers, and that’s exactly how it played out in the first inning. Sophomore center fielder Lexi Jerger got things started with a leadoff single at the top of the first. Senior second baseman Grace Werner followed her with another base hit to put two runners on the bags.
Junior third baseman Rachel Gress hit into a force out play at first base, but she was able to move Jerger and Werner to third and second respectively. Sophomore designated hitter Grace Colvin completed the circle with a double to drive in Werner and Jerger, 2-0 Jasper. Sophomore shortstop Meredith Hilgefort would hit into a pop-fly out afterwards, but freshman starting pitcher Mia Werner clapped a single to score Colvin. It was after this point that the game shifted to a more defensive oriented contest; a battle of wills to see which team’s wall of jerseys could could be broken first.
The first attempt from Pike Central came and went without much fanfare. Senior shortstop Audra Stone was able to draw a walk off of Werner to take first base, but the next batter — senior Chargers starter Peyton Sorgius — hit into a pop-fly out. Senior third baseman Jalah Barnes knocked a booming hit, but tried to bite off more than she could chew as she was thrown out sliding at second base. However, she was able to move Stone over to third base. But any intentions of tricky running to put Stone across the plate vanished after senior first baseman Demi Croak hit into a force out play at first base.
The second inning was a struggle for both teams. Grace Werner was able to reach first base on a fielding error, but Jerger, Gress, and Colvin were put out and failed to advance her. Pike Central dealt with a strikeout from sophomore center fielder Lauren Vaughn, a lineout by junior second baseman Emily Carnahan, and a force out play at first base for senior left fielder Jordan Montgomery.
Jasper went scoreless again in the third, but their defensive mettle was tested at the bottom of the inning. With one out, the Wildcats found themselves in a bases loaded situation. The immediate threat was Sorgius, who was on third base. When Vaughn connected on her single, the Wildcats were able to turn the play at home and tag out Sorgius, much to the dismay of the Charger fans. It looked like Pike Central might break through when senior catcher Alexis Halbrader hit a grounder with a bit of mustard on it, but it went straight to Gress at third base, who touched the bag to force out Croak and close the inning.
The Chargers had a chance to steal some momentum in the fifth inning with one out and Croak and Barnes on the corners, as Vaughn hit a single to drive in Barnes and finally get Pike Central on the scoreboard. But before the Chargers could totally ignite the rally, Halbrader hit into a lineout play by Gress at third base, who then turned and gunned it to Grace Werner at second base to turn a double play and end the inning.
Pike Central would never get any closer and the last two innings came and went without any fanfare — unless you count the Wildcats rushing the field in celebration after Grace Werner helped record the last out at first base in the bottom of the seventh.
After wishing their opponents good game, Jasper embraced, cheered, and celebrated on the diamond with the parents and fans for doing something not many expected them to do. Pryor singled out Grace Werner and Hurst, the team’s only two seniors, with serving as anchors not only on the field but in the dugout all season. They relished finishing their senior year with a sectional title.
“It’s honestly a crazy feeling,” said Hurst. “It’s totally different from any other game. You’re mind is everywhere, but once you get out on the field you know that you’re going to play like you know how to play.”
“It feels amazing,” added Grace Werner. “This year people didn’t have an expectation of us. It’s nice to be the underdog and pull through. The energy we brought today was outstanding.”
Mia Werner gave up 11 hits but only allowed one run and two walks. She also had an RBI. Colvin had the other two RBIs for the Cats. Sorgius gave up nine hits for the Chargers, four strikeouts, and three runs allowed. Vaughn had an RBI for Pike Central.
Pryor knows that the road doesn’t end here and that the team will have to prepare soon enough for their regional battle against Heritage Hills next Tuesday (whom the Cats narrowly defeated 5-4 in their regular season duel). But that game isn’t tomorrow, so he wants the girls to celebrate and enjoy their accomplishment. And how might they do that? Well, Hurst has an idea of how to start.
“A disco party on the charter bus after this,” she said. “And in the locker room.”
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