Herb Brooks, the iconic coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in a thrilling 4-3 win. Brooks kept telling his team “play your game, just play your game” after the team took the lead with ten minutes left in the game.
The Saline girls’ softball Head Coach Alicia Seegert must have been saying the same thing in the seventh inning of Thursday’s wild 9-8 win over the Clay High School Eagles from Oregon, Ohio. The lady Hornets took a commanding 9-5 lead into the final inning, only to escape with the narrow victory following a base-running error by the Eagles’ base runner who was caught in a run-down between second base and third to end the game.
Following the gem of a game the Hornets put together against the Lincoln Railsplitters on Wednesday (a 1-0 loss), Thursday’s game against Clay at the University of Michigan featured some lapses in playing fundamental softball.
Outfielders misjudging fly balls, over-throwing the cut off person or throwing to the wrong base. Soft fly balls that landed safely between three Hornet fielders. Fielders throwing the ball in an attempt to cut down a runner taking third which allowed the batter to end up on second, in scoring position.
All the little things it takes to close out games.
But in the end, it was the gutty performance of junior pitcher Alexandra Pace, senior catcher and center fielder, Kelsey Alexander and Ashley Heren, that made the difference in the game.
The Hornets jumped all over Eagles’ pitcher Brianna Pawlsczyk scoring five runs in the first two innings. Heren got things rolling for the Hornets beating out a soft grounder for a single. She was advanced to second when Emma Schwartzenberger reached first on an Eagles’ error.
Pace drove a 1-0 pitch in the gap in right center, scoring both runners. The Hornets added to the 2-0 lead in the second.
Senior Danielle Cobello drew a one-out walk, took second on Heren’s second hit of the game. Pace hit a 2-0 pitch into center field, scoring Cobello, picking up her third RBI of the game. Alexander hit into a fielder’s choice, scoring Heren and Pace scored on another Eagles’ error. It was 5-0 Saline at the end of two.
Clay got on the board scoring two runs in the top half of the fourth on a single, double and another single. The Hornets added three more runs in their half of the fourth.
Heren picked up her third hit of the game to lead off the inning. Heren scored on Schwartzenberger’s double to center. Pace walked and Alexander drove them both home with a single to right. 8-2 Saline at the end of four.
Clay sent eight batters to the plate in the fifth, stringing together five hits, including a solo home run to start the inning. Suddenly it was 8-5. Saline was retired in order in their half of the fifth.
Pace hit and walked batters in the sixth but escaped the inning without giving up a run, thanks to two key strike outs.
In the last half of the sixth, Saline scored the eventual winning run on a lead off walk by Heren, who stole second on the first pitch to Schwartzenberger. She scored on a single by Pace, who picked up her fourth RBI of the game. Saline took a 9-5 lead into the seventh.
And what a wild final inning it was.
Clay’s first batter was credited with a triple when the Hornets’ junior right fielder Regan Cox attempted a show string catch but the ball skidded by her all the way to the fence. She scored when the Eagles’ pitcher Pawlsczyk hit a solid shot to center for a double.
Pace walked the number nine hitter for Clay on a 3-2 pitch, putting runners on first and second. The next batter bunted, advancing the runners. Jenna Visley singled scoring the runner from third. The next batter singled to load the bases, with Saline leading 9-7.
The Eagles’ clean-up hitter hit a fly to deep center field, which was caught by Heren for the second out. The runner from third tagged and scored. The second base runner also tagged and headed to third. Center fielder Ashley Heren caught the ball, fired it to shortstop Schwartzenberger, who threw to third, catching the Eagle runner in a “pickle”.
The out went center to short to third to second back to third who tagged the runner out. Game over, Saline won 9-8.
For both Saline and Clay, what a game. And to be played at UM’s Alumni Field, under the lights. What a thrill.
The win ups the Hornets’ record to 7-7 on the year. They will get back into action on Monday when they travel to Bedford to take on the Kicking Mules in a double-header. Game times at 4 & 6 p.m.
SALINE POST THREE STARS:
1st Star: Alexandra Pace (0 runs scored, 3 hits, 4 RBIs, 1 walk and the pitching win)
2nd Star: Ashley Heren (4 runs scored, 3 hits, 0 RBIs, 1 walk & two sensational catches)
3rd Star: Kelsey Alexander (0 runs scored, 2 hits, 3 RBIs & superb behind the plate)