Putnam moves onto the semis with comeback win over Crater
State Playoffs (Quarterfinals)
The Rex Putnam softball team knew coming into its quarterfinal game against Crater that timely hitting would be a must.
The Kingsmen got exactly what they were looking for, it just came from an unlikely source.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth and the score tied 3-3, freshman Ashlee Conley — a player from the junior varsity team that was brought up for the state playoffs — smacked the go-ahead RBI-triple to the wall in right field as Putnam (20-5) advanced to the semifinals with a 5-3 victory over Crater (14-15) on Friday afternoon.
"It was an amazing moment," Conley said. "It was really nerve-racking playing in a varsity playoff game, but I was just looking for the right pitch and when I got it, I put a really good swing on it."
While the Putnam offense was getting runners aboard almost every inning, they struggled to score in the early going. The Kingsmen struck first in the bottom of the second, thanks to an RBI-single by Melia Croydon, but they left a total of seven runners on base in the first four innings as they clung to a 1-0 lead.
Putnam pitcher Maddie Mayer was dominant in her first four innings of work, holding Crater to just one hit as the Comets weren't able to even get a runner into scoring position until the fifth inning.
That is when the real fun began.
With one out in the top of the fifth, Crater's Kaila Lee reached on an error by Croydon at first base. Mayer then fanned Megan Wagner for the second out. But on the play, Putnam catcher Grace Vadelund tried to pickoff Lee at first and the ball got past Croydon and went into right field.
Lee rounded second and headed for third as she tried to beat the throw from right field. It looked to be a bang-bang play, but the ball got past Putnam third baseman Liberty Robinson and Lee attempted to score on the error.
However, Putnam left fielder Mikaela Nall was backing up the throw at third and nailed Lee at home with a phenomenal throw for the third out. Crater coach Chris Arnold argued the call, claiming that Vadelund interfered by blocking the plate before she had the ball, but his protest was unsuccessful.
"Even though the call didn't go our way, I always believe that we are in control of our own destiny," Arnold said. "We're always looking forward to the next play. That is one thing we value as a program."
There would be another circus play that would happen in the top of the sixth inning. This one, though, would go in favor of the Comets.
With runners on first and third and two outs, Grace Hilton stepped to the plate for Crater in the biggest moment in the game to this point. She laid a beautiful bunt down the first base side and reached safely without a throw, bringing in Mackenzie Ryerson from third and tying the score at 1-1.
This is when the circus began. The Putnam infield looked all out of sorts on the play and Jordan Peterson, the runner on first, saw that third base was unoccupied — due to Robinson charging on the bunt — and she strolled in their easily. Hilton saw this and made a break for second.
Vadelund, who secured the ball after the bunt, tried to throw out Hilton at second, but the ball went into the outfield and inexplicably, there was nobody there to back up the throw. Peterson and Hilton both scored on the wild play and just like that, Crater was on top 3-1.
"We weren't hitting the ball very well so I knew I had to make something happen for my team," Hilton said. "Once I saw the ball go past second (base), I knew I was going home. I was so excited and I couldn't stop smiling and yelling."
Even though Putnam had lost all of the momentum, the Kingsmen knew they had to shake it off and turn their attention to the offensive side.
"I just told the girls to pretend like it didn't happen," Putnam coach Samantha Frost said. "It was important that we didn't let the chaos of that play stay with us."
Crater starting pitcher Jamie Cappello went 3.1 innings, giving up only the one run and five hits. Wagner came in to replace her in the circle in the bottom of the fourth and finished out the inning with no damage. She also threw a scoreless frame in the fifth, but started to lose her command in the sixth.
Robinson started off the inning by reaching on a free pass, which was followed by Grace Nuss getting to first after being hit by a pitch. Both runners advanced on a 4-3 groundout by Croydon.
It looked like Wagner might get out of the inning after getting another groundout on the next play. But eight-batter Taylor Stotts came through for the Kingsmen with a two-run bloop single to right field to tie the game 3-3.
Stotts clutch base knock brought Conley to the plate, who was pinch-hitting in the nine spot for Nall in her first playoff at-bat.
"I was so nervous, I was shaking," Conley said.
After working the count to full, Conley launched a deep fly ball to right field that hit the base of the wall. Stotts score easily on the triple to give Putnam the 4-3 advantage.
Leadoff hitter Mikayla Schweinsberg drew a walk in the next at-bat and purposely got into a rundown between first and second to allow Conley to score from third, extending the Kingsmen's advantage to 5-3 and granting them an insurance run for good measure.
"We made some great adjustments in our at-bats. It was good to see stuff come together," Frost said. "The girls at the bottom of our order have been a huge asset to us all season."
Mayer, who came back to the circle in the seventh to finish what she had started, didn't need the extra cushion as she retired the side in order to send her team onto the semis.
"We wanted this game more than anything," Mayer said.
Putnam will host Lebanon on Tuesday for a spot in the state title game.
"This Putnam ball club is a high-quality team," Arnold said. "You got to just tip your hat to them."