CLYDE — Elyria used outstanding defense to equalize Perrysburg ace Bri Pratt, but it was ultimately a two-out error in the bottom of the 10th inning that led to the Pioneers’ 1-0 defeat in the Division I regional semifinals Wednesday afternoon.
Perrysburg’s Halie Monhollen led off the 10th with a bloop single to left field and was lifted for pinch runner Marissa Thomas.
No. 9 hitter Reyann Kruger sacrificed Thomas to second before Kylie Griggs sent a fly ball to right field.
Elyria senior right fielder Keearah Williams made the catch and threw to third in an attempt to get Thomas, who tagged up on the catch. The ball arrived at the same time as the runner and skipped off third baseman Kerrigan Williams — the right fielder’s freshman sister — and into foul territory.
“The ball came in and (Thomas) was sliding down,” Perrysburg coach Ryan DeMars said. “I saw the ball bounce, and as soon as I saw it taking a move away from the base … hey, let’s go, let’s give this thing a shot. We had good speed on the bases and why not?”
Thomas popped up after the close play and raced home, scoring without a throw to the plate.
“We made one mistake and we made it on the wrong play,” Elyria coach Ken Fenik said. “That one bounce — that was a great throw by our right fielder — and we just didn’t bring it in. I knew the game was going to come down to something like that.”
“I don’t know that I felt like it was going to come down to anything,” DeMars said. “I wasn’t sure it was ever going to end. But when you’re in a game like that, you know that one little miscue, one little misdirection, something can be the difference in a game. Fortunately it broke our way.”
Neither team caught many breaks during two-plus hours of scoreless softball.
Pratt sat down Elyria batter after Elyria batter — striking out nine in the first three innings and finishing with 17. The Miami of Ohio commit allowed just five hits — spread over five innings — and walked none.
“We played great defense but their pitcher just outdid us,” senior shortstop April Howser said. “We couldn’t hit her, she pitched a fantastic game, but we put up a good fight. (The umpire) was giving her the outside corner big time. She was throwing inside-outside, change-up, rise ball … she had it all.”
Fenik said the expanded strike zone was an extra wrinkle Elyria hitters hadn’t dealt with a lot this season.
“It was truly an umpire that was for the pitchers,” he said. “I’ve been complaining all year that the umps weren’t giving our pitchers the corners. Today (Pratt) got the corners and she made use of it, but so did we and that’s how we got out of some innings.
“You had a couple inches on the inside and a couple inches on the outside, she had that off-speed … I mean, she’s a great pitcher, she knows how to change her speeds. She probably has three different speeds she throws, and that’s tough to adjust. You sit on one and she throws another. It’s just a guessing game.”
While Pratt was confounding Elyria’s offense, the Pioneers were doing what they needed to do to keep the Yellow Jackets off the scoreboard.
Sophomore pitcher Izzie St. Peter induced plenty of groundballs and pop-ups, but when Perrysburg batters managed to hit balls hard, Elyria defenders were there with a great play.
Freshman second baseman Jessica Chapman leaped for a hard-hit line drive to end the fourth inning, Kerrigan Williams made a diving catch on a bunt attempt just a few feet from home plate in the sixth and left fielder Damia Parks came up big with a sliding catch of a fly ball in the eighth.
“We always preach defense,” Fenik said. “We probably spend more time on defense than we do on offense. We figure defense can always keep you in a game, and it did today.”
Elyria’s defense of its Division I state title may have fallen short, but Fenik said it didn’t take a lot away from this season or the careers of his team leaders.
“My seniors have been great for the program for four years, they’ve won a ton of games plus a state championship,” he said. “You can’t win your last game all the time. I told them not to hang their heads, be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Me personally as a coach, I was wanting to win the conference and the district championship — everything else was all gravy.”