LAGRANGE — Keystone’s senior leaders made sure their final game on their home diamond was a memorable one.
Lauren Shaw went the distance in the circle, Madi Cendrosky went 3-for-3 in the cleanup spot and Sammie Stefan — the program’s all-time home run leader — hit a towering shot over the center-field fence in her final at-bat to lead the Wildcats to a 6-1 win over Holy Name in a Division II district final.
“I didn’t even think about that,” Stefan said as tears began to well up in her eyes. “It hits my heart … the fact that it’s my last time here.”
The district title is Keystone’s 31st and fourth straight.
The Wildcats, who are ranked No. 2 in the state, will face the winner of Saturday’s district final between Napoleon and Wapakoneta in a regional semifinal in Tiffin on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Holy Name (22-3) got on the scoreboard first, using a bunt single, a passed ball and a fielding error to bring home Annessa Whitlow for a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Keystone (24-4) answered in similar fashion in its half of the inning, as Stefan beat the throw for an infield single, stole second, advanced to third on Cendrosky’s single to right field and scored when Whitlow threw the ball past third base trying to get Stefan in a rundown.
“That was nice,” Cendrosky said of her team being able to answer right away. “As the (designated player) it’s my job that once I get up (to the plate) to get any runs in that are on base. I felt like I owed it to my team to hit Sammie in, which was nice because it put us back in it and I could see our girls were relieved and their heads were more level after that.”
The unearned run also ended a streak of 47 innings in which Holy Name had not surrendered a run.
“We’ve been really good on both ends — pitching and defense — and we’ve only given up two earned runs in the last 12 games,” Green Wave coach Jeanette Howard said. “We had a plan going in. We knew Lauren was a great pitcher, so we wanted to jump ahead early so she wasn’t able to throw her junk pitches.”
Shaw was able to get a fly ball out to strand two Holy Name runners in the first, then induced a popup to the mound to end the third with the bases loaded.
“They had really tough hitters, they were very aggressive, but my defense was solid the whole game and my offense came back every time they threatened and answered everything they gave us,” Shaw said.
The Wildcats took the lead in the third when senior Paige Hartley hit a two-out single then scored on a double by Stefan, who scored on a Cendrosky single to left field.
“Coach P. (Jim Piazza) has definitely been working on aggressive baserunning, so I knew it was my job to get around the bases and score,” said Stefan, who scored half the Wildcats’ runs. “So any opportunity that I could, it was my goal to get home so I made sure I did it.”
Stefan wasn’t finished. She matched Cendrosky’s 3-for-3 performance with her leadoff blast in the sixth inning.
“That was a big relief,” Shaw said. “It hit her bat and I knew it was gone. I was jumping out of the dugout. At that point I knew it was kind of over, because the pitcher looked defeated and our girls were fired up, and I knew there was no stopping us then.”
After Cendrosky hit her third single of the game, Holy Name pulled starter Nikki Camarati and replaced her with Tayla Mountcastle, who opened with a strikeout before walking the bases full and throwing three wild pitches and surrendering a sacrifice fly to Shelby Fortune to give Keystone two more runs.
“That’s the senior leadership,” Piazza said of the three-hit outings by Cendrosky and Stefan. “They’ve been through this before, and they did a great job of shortening their swing and putting the ball in play when we needed it. I can’t be any happier for those guys.”
Piazza was then told about the pair’s emotional moment, when Cendrosky embraced Stefan after Stefan broke down during her postgame interview.
“I think they take a lot of pride being part of our program,” Piazza said. “They know the tradition and everything, but I have to remind Sammie now that she’s got a lot more at-bats to go. I understand it means a lot to play here. We see the little kids that come and watch our games and want to be a part of this, and she was one of them from Day 1. It’s got to be hard knowing you’re not coming back here, but she also understands that we have a little more work to do.”