Morenci softball squad falls in regional finals 2013.06.12

sports.front copyBy DAVID GREEN

After Morenci's offensive barrage Saturday in Game 1 of the Div. IV regional softball tournament—a 14-4 shellacking of Whiteford—it seemed likely that another would follow in Game 2 against Concord.

It never came.

Concord erupted for six runs in the opening inning, similar to Morenci's eight-run third inning against Whiteford. The Bulldogs would need to pick up a run or two every inning or come through with another outburst—something to overcome the shaky start.

But the first inning produced only a single from Julie Terry with only four runners coming to bat. The second inning was the same—a single by Ali VanBrandt and only four batters.

Hannah Jeffers singled to left in the third inning, Taylor Bryant walked in the fourth, and Jeffers drew a walk in the fifth—none of them advancing and time was running short.

With two outs in the sixth, McKenzie Hilton walked and her baserunner, Emily Schmidt, advanced to second on a passed ball—the Bulldogs’ first break of the contest.

Ashley VanBrandt singled to shallow left to drive Schmidt home, followed by a double from Ali VanBrandt. Two hits, one run.

With one opportunity remaining, Terry singled to left field, but there were two outs already recorded. The final batter was out and Concord had its first regional softball tournament in school history with a 7-1 victory.

The big first inning gave Concord confidence and momentum, coach Kay Johnson said, but the Bulldogs had plenty of time. They hit well a week earlier in the district tournament and they came through with a dozen hits Saturday against Whiteford.

“But we couldn’t get it done,” Johnson said. “Their defense took us out of anything. Their shortstop took away some hits from us and their left fielder made a nice diving catch. We didn’t strike out much, but we hit a lot of fly balls.”

The Yellow Jackets finished with only seven hits—one more than Bulldogs—but they got a lot more offensive punch, combined with some Morenci errors.

When Bulldog pitcher McKenzie Hilton walked in the fourth run to leave the bases loaded, Coach Johnson brought Taylor Schisler to the mound. The Concord batter doubled to the fence to drive in two more runs, but the Yellow Jackets didn’t get much more off Schisler.

“Taylor did a super job for not having pitched for nearly three weeks,” Johnson said. “Under all that pressure, she performed like a senior.”

Hilton returned to the mound in the sixth, but the umpire wouldn’t allow her any warm-up pitches—not the first problem Coach Johnson had with officials.

One run scored on a passed ball, but Hilton shut Concord down after that.

“I think Concord was a beatable team,” Johnson said, “but the Whiteford game took a lot out of us emotionally.”

WHITEFORD—The Bulldogs took a one-run lead in the first inning after a single by Jeffers and a sacrifice by Schisler, then added another in the second. Meanwhile, Hilton fanned five of the first nine batters she faced.

Then it all broke loose in the third.

Hilton drove in a pair of runs with a double and Jeffers cleared the bases with a triple and an error that brought her home, as well. When the inning ended, the Bulldogs were on top 10-0 against a team that beat them three times this season—a team that gave Clinton its first league loss in years.

Ashley VanBrandt drove in a run with a double in the fourth and another scored on a passed ball. Morenci led 13-4 and finally finished it off with the mercy rule in the sixth. Hilton doubled to the fence and her runner, Schmidt, came home on a single by Ashley VanBrandt.

“We made the defensive plays that game,” Coach Johnson said. “It was one of the more rewarding wins that we’ve had in a while.”

The bigger reward, of course, would have been a similar effort in the regional finals. That would have delivered a team with a .500 record to the quarterfinals Tuesday at Adrian College.