AKRON — Keystone ran out of innings in its bid for a fourth state softball championship Saturday at Firestone Stadium.
The Wildcats couldn’t quite make up for a six-run second inning from unbeaten and top-ranked Hebron Lakewood (29-0) in falling 7-4 in the Division II title game. Keystone (28-5) took home its seventh runner-up trophy.
“You can’t do anything about the things you can’t control,” Keystone coach Jim Piazza said. “It’s not like we went out there and didn’t play hard — not like we didn’t want to make plays. There were just breaks that happened in the game that you have no control over. We stayed and battled and battled and battled.”
The game couldn’t have started better for the Wildcats.
Lauren Shaw retired the side in order, then Summer Constable bunted her way aboard to start the bottom of the first. Destiny Weber singled to left and Sammie Stefan doubled down the line in right to score Constable and put runners on second and third with no outs.
But Lakewood’s Courtney Viestra knuckled down to retire the side with no further damage. She struck out Shaw for the first out, and catcher Kristen Peacock fielded Madi Cendrosky’s bunt in front of the plate and threw out Weber at third for the second out. Viestra struck out Autumn Acord to end the threat with just one run crossing.
“We’ve been aggressive like that all year,” Piazza said. “Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. They win the games, I lose them. It’s on me.”
The second inning turned the tide for the Lancers.
Peacock led off with a single to right, but Shaw came back to retire the next two hitters on grounders to Stefan at third with Peacock advancing a base with each out. Bray Wilson managed to chop a high bouncer over Stefan’s head into left field to tie the game.
That’s when Lakewood pounced from the bottom of the order.
Olivia Martin, the No. 8 hitter, singled to right and the runners advanced to second and third on the throw. Courtney Knepper drove in both with a shot to left and wound up at second after the throw home.
Alexa Perry’s grounder to Constable at short should have ended the inning, but the throw pulled Madi Cendrosky’s foot off the bag. Kaitlyn Peacock, twin sister of Kristen, drove the next pitch deep over the left-field fence for the 6-1 lead.
“I just wanted to make contact,” Kaitlyn said. “I hit it pretty good.”
“She sure did,” coach Criss Nadolson said. “She got it all. We get rolling, it’s hard to get us stopped. Keystone put up a dogfight. They gave it everything they had.”
Piazza knew his team wouldn’t roll over.
“I just asked them in the huddle, if you’re going to quit, let me know now. We can just keep this short,” he said. “But if you want to keep fighting, let’s go fight. They said, ‘We’re fighting.’”
Piazza brought in freshman Sydney Campbell for a change of pace and it worked out well. She pitched 4⅔ innings of one-run ball before Piazza turned things back to Shaw in the seventh when Lakewood scored its final run.
“That was a huge run,” Nadolson said. “It was only one run but it was an answer back.”
Keystone battled and chipped away at the deficit but couldn’t quite make up the difference. A run in the third came when Weber reached third on a double down the left-field line that got past Martin. Stefan drove her in with a hit to right, but Viestra retired the next two hitters.
The Wildcats scored again in the fifth to close within 6-3 when Weber tripled over Martin’s head in left and scored on another base hit by Stefan.
“It’s just one of those things,” Stefan said of her three-hit, three-RBI day. “Coach tells me to watch the pitch selection. I try to get deep in the count because Courtney has a really good riseball. I knew if it was high to lay off. She just pitched it right where I wanted it.”
Keystone’s sixth inning had Lakewood and Viestra reeling.
“I thought so,” Piazza said. “We had the bases loaded. I thought that was where the game was going to change right there. Give them credit. They came through when they had to.”
Viestra, who walked only 15 batters all year, suddenly couldn’t throw strikes. She walked Cendrosky on four pitches and Acord on a full count. Madi Nunez flied out to right, but Kodi Akers coaxed a full-count walk to load the bases.
Paige Hartley made the second out when she bounced back to Viestra for a force at home but not before fouling off a half dozen pitches with two strikes. Constable then worked the count full before drawing a walk to force in Accord to cut the deficit to 6-4. But Weber grounded to third to end the inning.
“That was one of the toughest innings I had,” Viestra said, referring to her season.
“That’s a credit to these kids,” Piazza said. “They battled. It’s not that we did anything wrong, it’s just that we got beat. We just didn’t get those breaks.
“These guys are awesome. I’m going to miss the seniors but with the great tradition that we’ve had, I think we represented Keystone. We played with great pride and had a great work ethic. These kids have nothing to be ashamed of.”