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Division I state softball semifinal: Clutch hitting, chance at title eludes Amherst in 1-0, nine-inning loss to Teays Valley

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AKRON — Amherst and Teays Valley played what appeared to be a high-scoring game Friday night in a Division I state semifinal at Firestone Stadium — they just didn’t get around to the scoring.

In a game that lasted over three hours and featured 24 runners left on base — 14 for the Comets and 10 for the Vikings — it was finally Teays Valley that came up with a clutch hit in the ninth inning that led to a 1-0 victory and a spot in today’s state final.

“We had chances, it just seemed like we never got that big hit when we had the opportunity,” Comets coach Lacey Reichert said. “Credit to Teays Valley that they came up when they needed to and they got the big hit. That was the difference in the game.”

Teays Valley’s Raelynn Hastings led off the ninth with a single that dropped inches from the right-field line behind first base, but was thrown out on Hope Skellet’s fielder’s choice. Hanna Skellet singled to left and Kayla Meadows was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Courtney Wilburn grounded to shortstop Kasey McGraw, who threw home to force Hope Skellet for the second out, but Vikings leadoff hitter Macey Moore singled up the middle for the game-winning run.

The Amherst players and their fans didn’t exit without some great memories.

Freshman pitcher Madison O’Berg turned in a stellar performance, the Comets put together several solid scoring chances — including leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth — and the defense put together several highlight-worthy plays.

The biggest gem of the night was the reason the teams needed extra innings.

Teays Valley put itself in great position to win the game in the top of the seventh when Hastings singled and moved to second on Hope Skellet’s walk. Hanna Skellet laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, putting runners at second and third with one out.

Meadows hit a long fly ball to left, Amherst’s Sarah Miller made the catch and cut down Hastings at the plate as the Comets faithful erupted.

“That was awesome. That was a good play on both ends,” Reichert said. “Miller made a phenomenal throw, and it kind of short-hopped our catcher (Lauren Kachure) and she stayed down on it and was still able to make the tag.

“But those are the kinds of plays we’ve gotten used to watching these guys make all year, and we expected nothing different even though it was on a much bigger stage.”

Miller said the glare from the sun made the catch tough, but she was in good position to make the play.

“I knew I had enough time to get under it and get my momentum going forward because I knew I had to make the play at home,” Miller said. “I got the ball out of my glove and threw it as fast as I could. Honestly, I didn’t think she was out because from my point of view it looked like she was safe, and then when I saw him call her out I was … just excited.”

The excitement generated from Amherst’s defense lasted throughout the game.

“I thought in the first inning Madison Spataro made a great play over at first, coming up the line and making the tag,” Reichert said. “In that ninth inning, Ashlee (Dahman) laid out and made a real nice play (a diving catch for the third out) to kind of keep the game within striking distance.

“But that’s what these girls do. That’s how they practice and that’s how the play. That’s what we see them do every day.”

Another Comets constant was O’Berg, who managed to pitch out of several jams and keep the Teays Valley hitters guessing. She said the stalwart defense behind her makes her job a lot easier.

“It helps a lot knowing that if I miss a spot and they hit it, I know my defense is going to back me up and they are going to make plays to save runs,” O’Berg said. “I was nervous going in, but I knew that I couldn’t be nervous because anything could happen. I had to keep on focusing, and I knew we had to play hard to win it and I think we played hard today.”

Matching O’Berg pitch for pitch was Vikings senior Alyssa Rothwell, who allowed only three hits but walked eight, hit a batter and saw two Comets reach via errors.

Miller, who had one of Amherst’s hits while junior leadoff hitter Madison Cruzado had the other two, said Rothwell was talented but the Comets hurt themselves at the plate, too.

“We had to lay off of her riseball because it was a really good pitch and obviously it killed us in some of our at-bats,” Miller said. “When we found good pitches early, that’s when we got our hits.”

Of Amherst’s 14 stranded runners, eight were left in scoring position and two times Rothwell came up with inning-ending strikeouts with a runner on third.

It was the third straight extra-innings game for Teays Valley, which also needed an extra inning last season when it won the state championship.

“We thought one of the big advantages for them was that they were here last year,” Reichert said. “So we’re hoping, that should we get back here next year, one of our big advantages will be … having that experience. You can talk about it all you want, you can watch it on TV and you can read all the articles in the paper, but it’s nothing until you get here and you’re on that field and you’re on that stage.”

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