Avery Clark makes contact with the ball during the Division III state semifinals softball game at Firestone Stadium in Akron against Warren Champion. Clark sparked the Lady Cats’ only offense of the day, a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, to take the game into extra innings.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
Coaches strive for the perfect game all season long and North Union head coach Dawn Draper and her Lady Cats were no different this season.
Their quest for perfection is what got them to the Division III state semifinals on Friday against Warren Champion, a team that has a perfect record of 30-0.
Even though the Lady Cats were able to play perfect defense, keeping a zero in the E column, it still wasn’t enough to come away with a win as North Union’s season came to a close after a 2-1 loss in eight innings to the Golden Flashes.
“My coaching staff, pitching, fielding, hitting all of them; they prepared so hard for this game, we played a textbook game, we just didn’t come out in the run column ahead,” said Draper.
That textbook game started inside the circle for North Union. Madison Wedding took the rubber and held the Lady Flashes to only five hits while tallying four K’s. Wedding started off the game by sitting down Champion in order and followed up stranding a runner on first after a pair of strikeouts and leaning on her defense to get out of the second inning.
“They (Champion) were really aggressive, so working ahead in my favor was great,” Wedding said. “They were popping it up whether it was a drop ball or a rise ball, so that worked out. Getting ahead helped out a lot. “
Wedding’s pitching performance continued, with strikeouts in the third and fourth inning. During that time, she yielded two hits.
The Lady Cats felt the same hitting woes.
Champion pitcher Sophie Howell tallied 17 strikeouts and surrendered just three hits to the Lady Cats.
North Union got its first runner on in the second inning. Kennedy Ruhl drew a walk, but the Lady Cats could not advance her any further.
The stellar pitching performance by both teams continued through six innings of play.
Neither team moved the scoreboard until the top of the seventh. Wedding worked the count full against Abby White, who then ripped a line drive home run over the left-field fence to open up the scoring.
Wedding recovered with a quick ground ball to Madison Amstutz that ended the inning.
With the game on the line, Avery Clark led off the bottom of the seventh inning for North Union.
She turned on the ball and sent it sailing deep to the left-center gap. The Flashes center fielder made a play on the ball, but it rolled out of her glove and over the fence to knot the game at 1-1.
Clark said she just watched and hoped as the ball left her bat.
“When I swung through, I knew it had the potential of going out,” she said. “I wasn’t really running, I was just watching the ball. I knew their center fielder made a couple of great catches before that, so I was just hoping that she wasn’t going to somehow catch it. Once I saw the ball over the fence, I was just losing it. “
The game couldn’t be decided in seven frames, but it wouldn’t take Champion long to put another run on the board. With two outs in the top of the eighth inning and two strikes on Lady Flash Allison Smith, Champion put its second run on the scoreboard. Smith’s solo homer over the center field fence to put the game at 2-1.
The Lady Cats’ eight, nine and one hitters took the plate in their last attempt to keep the season alive.
They could not find any gaps in the field as the game ended with an infield fly ball.
The low-scoring ball game came as no surprise to Draper, who has been to Akron on six other occasions.
“I knew it was going to be a battle,” she said. “I was just hoping it would work to my benefit, because they (Champion) have been pounding people. I was just hoping if I could get the ball in play, that would possibly make an error.
“Overall, my kids played so hard, so strong, so tough, error-free ball,” she said. “We looked really good and that’s what they work so hard for and I was proud of them.”
The Lady Cats ended their season at 25-3
WC 000 000 11-2 5 0
NU 000 000 1 0-1 3 0
WP- Howell, 8 IP
LP- Wedding 8 IP
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