It left with a whimper.
After losing a chance to clinch the AMC South Division title by splitting with Rio Grande on Sunday, the Bears couldn't muster one more win against the Redwomen to keep their season alive, losing the first two games in a best-of-three AMC qualifier at Boone Coleman Field on Thursday. With the 3-2 and 7-1 losses, a seemingly promising year at the start concluded very prematurely. Shawnee State ends the season 22-13 (9-7 AMC).
“I'm terribly disappointed,” said SSU coach Ralph Cole. “We were lifeless and we didn't have any effort.”
With the season, and a chance to go to the Region IX tournament next week on the line, the Bears were done in by the same thing that had plagued them all season - a lack of timely hitting. The team combined for 12 hits in the doubleheader. Rio Grande, in the second game alone had 11. The Bears also left seven runners on base in both games.
Coming into the game, SSU had a combined average of .270 at the plate, .023 points lower than last season, though almost every key hitter from 2006 returned. Cole blamed himself for the hot-and-cold way SSU played this season.
“At the end of the day, I think I did the poorest job of coaching I've done all year with this group,” Cole said. “We just didn't get it done and, I mean we didn't get it done.
“I think all season long that I don't think it ever soaked in. I don't think that a big game and a little game made any difference Our effort wasn't what it should have been all season and it's frustrating. Totally frustrating.”
That frustrating effort showed again in the first game. After Shawnee surrendered three runs in the top of the third inning, Rio pitcher Miranda Laws retired the Bears' half of the inning on four pitches. Laws pitched both games for the Redwomen and, though she had trouble finding the plate at times, did enough to get her team to the region tournament.
“She likes to work the corners and I don't think she was getting tired. We knew she could throw two games,” said Rio Grande coach David Pyles. “Our No. 2 pitcher had some nerves, so we decided to go with (Laws) and it payed off for us.”
Shawnee State had one last chance to take the first game as the Bears had runners on second and third in the seventh inning, but Laws got the next batter to pop-out to the shortstop to give the Redwomen a 1-0 lead in the series.
The Bears finished the season with the second-best ERA in the AMC and, again, got strong performances by Lori Harmon and Ashley Keen. But SSU's defense, the top unit in the conference, twice committed two errors in an inning, leading to outbursts by Rio Grande. The first occurred in the three-run third in the second game. The second was at the start of the nightcap as the Redwomen capitalized and scored four times before Shawnee State had an at-bat.
“I think the air was out,” Cole said.
From there, it was an uphill climb and the Bears could never recover. SSU scored in the sixth, Ali Hull driving in Emily Fuhrmann, to cut the deficit to two, but Rio Grande put it out of reach with a three-run seventh.
The Bears lose three seniors, Shawntavia Mason, Tia Walling and starting centerfielder Ashley Adkins. Cole said the loss on the team will not only be from a softball perspective, but a personal standpoint as well.
“We're losing three kids that work hard and they're just good people. You can't measure their contributions in wins and losses,” Cole said. “People are more important than the stats, than the winning and losing.”
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242.
Rio Grande 003 000 0 - 3 4 1
SSU 010 000 1 - 2 7 2
WP: Laws. LP: Harmon.
Rio Grande - Ross 1-3, R, RBI, Hamman 1-3, R, RBI.
SSU - Fuhrmann 2-4, RBI.
Rio Grande 400 000 3 - 7 11 0
SSU 000 001 0 - 1 5 1
WP: Laws. LP: Keen.
Rio Grande - Ross 2-3, 2R, Hamman 2-4, 2R, Laws 3-4, R, RBI, Detwiller 2-3, RBI.
SSU - Hull 1-1, RBI.
Records - Shawnee State 22-13 (9-7 AMC); Rio Grande 22-14 (10-6 AMC).