Creston softball’s season came to a close Wednesday night as the Panthers fell to the Clarke Lady Indians 14-3.
A game that was within Creston’s reach for the early stages of the ballgame was blown open on a 10-run sixth inning that not only gave Clarke a large lead, but gave the Lady Indians enough run support to end the game at the conclusion of the sixth.
The run explosion for the Indians came off a combination of well placed hits and Creston misplaying the ball in the field.
“We walked some people and all of a sudden we have a ball here in left field that gets by, I don’t know how, and next thing we know it’s going to the fence to score another run,” said head coach Mike McCabe. “... I was just saying to our assistant (Teri Keeler), ‘what happened?’ I had no idea. It was like a knockout punch.”
McCabe said four batted balls in the field were capable of being caught, but instead fell in for either an error or a hit.
Clarke scored all 10 of its runs in the inning before recording the first out. The Lady Indians also did not draw a walk at the plate as they batted around, bringing 13 batters to the plate.
McCabe noted jitters may have been a factor for eight grade starting pitcher Keely Coen as she worked her way through a lineup she had not faced before this season.
Before getting pulled in the fourth for Haylee Gillam, Coen had walked and struck out two. She re-entered for the Panthers in the sixth inning.
“You’ve got to be able to change speeds against them and you’ve got to be able to locate. Location wasn’t great and to change speed, right now we’re not strong enough so that option was out the window,” said McCabe. “I thought Haylee gave us that opportunity to spot the fastball and change it up a little bit.”
Gillam registered one inning pitched, completing the fifth but not getting an out in the sixth inning. She was saddled with the losing decision, surrendering 10 runs in the sixth inning.
One base away
Prior to Clarke’s 10-run inning, Creston battled its way into the game as it refused to go down without a fight on its home field.
In the fourth inning Creston was able to put a few runs on the board, getting things started with a textbook bunt off the bat of Peyton Rice that gave Clarke fielders a slim chance of getting her out at first.
With one out, the power laden bat of Saige Rice stepped in, looking to capitalize with her fleet of foot sister on base.
Instead of shooting a gap, Saige connected on a two-run opposite field homer that snuck over the fence just inside the right field foul pole.
The home run cut Clarke’s lead to 3-2, putting Creston within reaching distance of tying the ballgame.
In the fifth Creston had the opportunity to even it up at 4-4, but couldn’t capitalize on a scoring opportunity.
A single from Brielle Baker and a stolen base put her in scoring position, and a double off the bat of Sara Keeler scored her to once again make it a one-run ball game at 4-3. Keeler moved over to third on a Peyton Rice single to put the tying run 60 feet away.
Keeler never came around to score, getting stranded at third as Gracie Hagle popped out to shortstop Ashlynn Oehlert to end the threat.
The next trip to the plate, Creston trailed by 11, getting set down in order to close out its season.
McCabe gave praise to Clarke’s starter Alexis Watson on her ability to work quickly through the Panther lineup.
“She really hammered us inside and we kind of knew she was going to do that. Teams have kind of gone to that in not letting us get our arms and hands extended. Give her credit, I thought she was excellent,” said McCabe.
Watson finished with a line score of six innings pitched, striking out 11. She stranded two Panther runners on third, keeping the possible tying and go-ahead runs from crossing home plate.
Rice, Baker close senior campaign
Before walking off the field one last time in the all-black Panther uniform, the players laughed and hugged to show appreciation for one another of competing together over the course of the season.
The Panthers will retain a large chunk of their regular starting nine, losing just their center fielder in Saige Rice and their second baseman in Brielle Baker.
Saige capped off her Creston career with a two-run homer, going 1-for-3 out of the clean-up spot in the batting order. Baker finished her career with a 2-2 day, hitting two singles.
“They’re really two quality kids,” said McCabe. “Could not ask for more when it comes to representing us on and off the field. ... Two good kids and I wish them all the best and I’m just thankful for having the opportunity to have them in the program.”
As two vocal and physical leaders in the clubhouse, their presence may be missed more than the returning players may expect next season.
“More than what they think and more than what their teammates think,” said McCabe. “I told the team that they don’t even know what they’ve meant example-wise and leadership-wise to some of these young kids.”
Saige Rice will be staying local as she takes the next step in her softball career, joining Southwestern Community College as it continues on its path to rebuild its program.
Brielle Baker will also be staying local as she continues her basketball career with Southwestern Community College.
Creston ends the season 18-15 with a 13-7 record in Hawkeye 10 play.
Clarke 14, Creston 3
R H E
Cl 202 00(10) — 13 15 1
Cr 000 210 — 3 6 1
Clarke: Alexis Watson 11K and Audrey Kindred. Creston: Keely Coen 5IP 2K 2BB, Haylee Gillam (5) and Peyton Rice. W — Watson (10-10). L – Coen (7-6). HR — Cr: Saige Rice. 2B — Cl: Emma Bolton (2), Audrey Kindred, Kiaya Dunbar, Sadie Marker. Cr: Sara Keeler. RBI — Cl: Taylor Kartchner (3), Dunbar (3), Bolton (3), Alexis Watson, Marker, Kindred. Cr: Rice (2).