NEW BOSTON — Breaking a streak is hard — especially when it’s in a do-or-die situation.
On Monday evening, however, the New Boston Tigers’ softball program did just that — once and for all.
Mariah Buckley, Peyton Helphinstine, and Taylen Hickman posted three hits apiece, Hickman pitched a complete game in the circle while only allowing two runs after the first innings of play, and Sammy Oiler blasted a home run over the left center field fence to help lead New Boston to its first postseason victory in five years behind the efforts of the aforementioned and the leadership that Buckley, Helphinstine, Ali Hamilton, Tasha Poole, and Kaylee Stone have provided as seniors in a 13-4 shellacking of Mowrystown Whiteoak on Monday evening in a Division IV, Rio Grande I Sectional Semifinal that was held in New Boston.
For Brian Holbrook, the opportunity to move onto the Division IV, Rio Grande I Sectional Finals for the first time since 2013 brought a sense of relief — similar to the good old ‘monkey off your back’ moniker that has been commonly phrased when a person or a group of people break through to achieve a goal.
“That feels so wonderful to say,” Holbrook said. “We were in the same spot last year (against Western) and weren’t able to come through. This year, our kids came out and fought to the end. We’ve got an excellent squad of girls who are gelling at the right time, and are hitting the ball and fielding well. The girls have made the decision to go as far as they can this year. If they play like they did tonight, they’ll give everybody a good fight.”
The Lady Tigers, however, had to go through rocky waters before making it to the calmer shore that awaited them.
In the opening inning of play, Hickman was able to get back-to-back 6-4 forceouts to quickly obtain two outs. However, the sophomore followed by walking Whiteoak’s Katie Ames and then allowing Cylee Bratton to rocket a two-out, two-run double to left as the Lady ‘Cats obtained a 2-0 advantage after an inning of play.
From there, however, Hickman wasn’t touched.
Over the final six innings of play, the sophomore only allowed five hits total, and other than a wild pitch that scored Bratton, along with a base hit from the No. 5-hole hitter that scored Courtney Gross, Whiteoak was not able to get a run across as New Boston’s primary pitching hand struck out four batters — with three of those punchouts ending the Lady ‘Cats’ frames in the second, third, and fourth innings of work — en route to the victory.
“Taylen went the full seven and did a good job battling (on Monday evening),” Holbrook said. “And even behind her, the pitching crew looks really, really good. We’ve got two or three additional girls that can throw.”
Even with the early 2-0 deficit, New Boston proved that they weren’t phased from the beginning as the Lady Tigers responded by taking the lead for good in the bottom half of the second frame of action.
Back-to-back errors to start the second inning ultimately allowed Kaylee Stone to follow with a critical two-out hit that scored Lexus Oiler. Stone’s hit was then followed by two additional RBI base knocks by Buckley and Shelby Easter as back-to-back-to-back two-out RBI singles gave the Lady Tigers a 3-2 advantage after two innings of work.
However, it was only the beginning of what was to come.
In the bottom of the third frame, Helphinstine led off the inning with a standup triple where the senior showed off her speed all the way around the basepaths, then did the same when the outfielder scored on a wild pitch. Sammy Oiler then followed with a massive solo home run to center field as New Boston ultimately took a 5-2 lead thanks to the efforts of their middle of the order hitters.
“Sammy has improved tremendously,” Holbrook said. “She’s been very big for us all season. Once again, she came through for us and really got us started on an excellent inning there. Sammy’s an all-around good player. She’s shown improvement and has really been one of the main players that we can depend on in clutch situations all year long. Kudos to Sammy tonight, for sure.”
The onslaught, however, was far from over. A shot by Lexus Oiler to left field was followed by a walk by Morgan Rawlins and another single by Ali Hamilton that loaded the bases. Two errors and four additional hits by Buckley, Hickman, Helphinstine, and Sammy Oiler, ultimately allowed a baker’s dozen to come to the plate as 13 batters participated in a nine-run third frame that turned the tight affair into a Lady Tiger runaway as New Boston took a 12-2 lead. Whiteoak ultimately used Bratton’s play — who went 2-for-2 with a double, three RBI, two walks, and a run scored — to prevent the mercy rule, but a Sammy Oiler sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth frame ended the overall result of the contest for good.
“That was a big inning for us there,” Holbrook said. “The team showed what we call Tiger Spirit and Tiger Pride, and they came out, fought, and did the right thing. I’m very proud of all of the girls. The infield looks sharp, and we’ve made a few changes in the outfield, but it looked to me like the changes were positive. Not only were the gloves in order, but we came out strong with the sticks. Everybody played very, very well. I’m very proud of all of them.”
Much of the excitement, however, is due in large part to a senior class that has already left behind quite the legacy across multiple sports.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Holbrook said. “Tasha Poole, Kaylee Stone, and Mariah Buckley have been with me since I’ve been here, and Peyton Helphinstine and Ali Hamilton have been big additions for us. It’s a bittersweet moment because we hate to see them go, but we want to send them out with a really positive outlook. I told them, ‘This is your opportunity to leave a legacy, and you’ve got to buckle down and do so.’ They’ve worked through some slumps and hard times, and they’ve persevered and done really well leading the younger kids.”
No. 6-seeded New Boston will move on to the Division IV, Rio Grande I Sectional Finals on Thursday evening, where a matchup with No. 3-seeded Peebles awaits in Peebles. Game time is set for 5 p.m.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT