In edgy showdown, big break eludes Rangers

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Forest Park’s Kylie Blessinger, left, and Taylor Brames donned rally caps while hoping for some offense in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s Class 2A softball sectional in Bretzville. The Rangers mustered two baserunners with one out in the seventh inning, but North Posey escaped the threat to end Forest Park’s season with a 1-0 loss. For a full gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

BRETZVILLE — All season, Forest Park softball coach Glenn Knies counted on one of his four seniors to produce the big play when the Rangers needed it most.

Knies couldn’t count the number of times Kayla Brahm persevered with two-out run-scoring hits in tight games. Kayla Smith’s walk-off grand slam versus Princeton was clutch at its finest. Kylie Blessinger, though unable to play while rehabbing from a stress fracture in her foot for the majority of the season, dispersed knowledge to the team’s youth.

Lange

So when Amanda Lange supplied one crucial play after another in Forest Park’s edgy first-round Class 2A sectional stalemate with North Posey on Tuesday in Bretzville, it served as simply the latest exhibit of the veteran foundation that’s promoted success all season.

When no one else was hitting against the Vikings, Lange connected. In a game where the smallest of defensive blunders could have surrendered the game, Lange excelled, making the plays that gave Forest Park a chance.

Yet even after seven innings of Lange’s valiant pace-setting, North Posey mustered the game’s lone run in the top of the seventh inning, concluding the Rangers’ season with a 1-0 heartbreak.

“She deserved it,” Knies said of Lange’s performance on the sectional stage.

The Vikings’ leadoff batter in the seventh blooped a base hit just beyond the pitcher’s circle that a diving Katelyn Roos came within inches of snagging on a sprint from her post at second base.

Three batters and two outs later, a gap single to right-center field by North Posey’s Hayley Harness plated Anna Will from second base.

In the bottom half of the inning, Lange calmly drove a first-pitch single beyond the lunging shortstop to ignite a Ranger rally. However, after Ericka Lange drew a walk, the Vikings alertly retired Amanda Lange at third on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Adria Giesler. Pinch-hitters then popped out to third base and struck out looking to strand the Rangers’ hopes of equalizing.

Amanda Lange’s single was her second of the game in which the Rangers (12-14) summoned just three. Defensively, however, Lange so often worked as the catalyst to ensure the Vikings (10-13) experienced a similar drought.

In the top of the third inning, the first baseman leapt for a high throw from shortstop Emily Gutgsell to retire Harness, the leadoff hitter that inning. In the top of the sixth, Lange alertly tracked down an overthrow to second base from right field, zipping it back to second in time to retire the advancing Viking trying to extend her single. Two batters later, Lange devoured a screaming grounder for the inning’s final out.

“I just tried to be where the mistakes were,” a modest Lange said.

For Knies, the defensive expertise has become somewhat expected from his first baseman. To complement her .450 batting average, Lange committed just one error all season while compiling 119 putouts coming into Tuesday. She added 12 more against the Vikings.

Adding to the tension was a pitching duel.

Entering the seventh frame, Ericka Lange (7-10) had allowed just two hits to the Vikings. Comparatively, Viking hurler Hailee Elderkin yielded just two fourth-inning singles before the final frame, while fanning 11 Rangers.

And as oxymoronic as it may sound coming from a coach, therein lay the Achilles’ heel for the Rangers, Knies said.

“Some of them just tried too hard,” Knies said of the Rangers’ at-bats.

The first 10 Rangers went down in order. After back-to-back fourth-inning knocks by Amanda Lange and Roos, Elderkin retired eight in a row. The Rangers chased pitches well above the strike zone, allowing the Viking sophomore to work frequently with advantageous counts.

The issue illustrated a recurring Ranger plight, Knies said.

“For the last eight to 10 games that we played this year, the problem that we had was knowing strike zone. And not being too anxious,” he said. “And how many pitches did we swing at tonight that were balls? And, I mean, were bad pitches. We swung at them, got down in a hole, and that makes it easier for (Elderkin).

“It’s like I always tell the girls, the problems that you have that coaches keep talking about constantly and constantly in practice and into the postseason, those usually come back to hurt you in sectional, and it did for us tonight.”

Even in loss, there was inevitably a “bright side of things” that Knies and his bunch can point to as well. After dropping three of their first four games of the season, the Rangers suffered a 14-2 setback to North Posey on April 13. From there, the Rangers won 11 of their final 19 games heading into the postseason.

As for the graduating quartet, Knies said the four permitted confidence to flourish within the squad. Whether is was Blessinger’s counseling, Brahm and Amanda Lange’s lead-by-example manner or the ease that Smith provided, the standard was set.

“When we came on the field, we all came together,” Amanda Lange said. “We all were trying to do what was best for the team. Overall, the seniors just wanted us to be a team and I think that pulled us together.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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