The Valley Indians came to Rio Grande on Thursday night expecting to play in a softball game.
Instead, it was a marathon.
In a 15-inning affair, Valley was able to outlast Reedsville Eastern 7-5. Marissa Markins slapped a two RBI grounder up the gap in the middle of the field in the top of the 15th, scoring Halee Stone and Margaret Caldwell.
Markins (1-for-7) saved her first hit of the game for crunch time, capitalizing on her chance late in the contest.
“She’s been struggling a little bit lately,” Indians head coach Montie Spriggs said of Markins. “She’s tried to overpower the ball, and I just told her to make contact with it. She drove the ball to right center field, and that’s what she does.”
Overall, the game saw over 120 plate appearances and 30 combined hits, but only two pitchers.
Valley sent senior Faith Brown to the mound, who made the most of her opportunities in a do-or-die scenario.
Brown struck out seven Eagles batters, walking only two. In the batter’s box, Brown went 4-for-5 with four singles, including a two RBI hit to center field in the 10th inning.
Capping off her epic performance, Brown struck out Kelsey Roberts looking to record the final out of the game. The strikeout stranded two runners for Eastern to end the scoring threat and secure a hard-fought win.
“That was really special for her, since she’s a senior,” Spriggs said. “She’ll be sorely missed when she leaves.”
Pitching in technically over two full softball games in the 15-inning bout, Brown was undoubtedly wore out when things were all said and done.
“When you pitch 15 innings, your arm has got to be worn out,” Spriggs said. “But she hasn’t pitched since last Thursday, so she’s had a week off. That made it a little bit better, but essentially she pitched two games today and kept us in the ball game.”
Eagles freshman Tessa Rockhold was no slouch, either.
With Rockhold on the hill, the future looks bright for Eastern. She struck out 10 Indians batters, and walked only three (with two walks being intentional walks of Brown).
Early, it appeared as though Valley had come out swinging to start the affair.
Leadoff hitter Margie Caldwell tripled to center field in the first at bat of the game for the Indians. However, Valley was unable to bring Caldwell home.
“We had the triple in the first inning with no outs, and I figured the next two girls would put it in play. Spriggs said. “We just didn’t do that, and so we didn’t score a run in the first inning. That would’ve been 2-1 in the regular game, so then we had to fight back.”
Eastern’s Cera Grueser tallied the first run of the game in the third inning, when she came home on an RBI knock from Rockhold.
Caldwell, who finished with a game high six hits, would tie the score in the sixth inning for the Indians. She knotted things up when she scored on a two out single to center field from Kirbi Sommers.
The score came after Caldwell reached base on an infield single, a pitch after she was mere inches away from hitting a home run to left field.
Caldwell would finish just a home run away from the cycle. She recorded a triple, two doubles, and three singles. Caldwell also scored two runs on the day, finishing 6-for-8.
Neither side would score another run until the 10th inning, when Valley put a three spot on the scoreboard to take a 4-1 lead.
Brooklyn Weeks opened the inning with an infield single, showing off her speed as a slap hitter. Madison Brewer secured a base on balls in a big pinch hit at bat, putting Indians runners on first and second with no outs.
From there, Caldwell scored Weeks on a double to center field. Madison Kuhn reached on an infield single to load the bases next, and following her Brown brought Caldwell and Kuhn in to score with a two RBI hit to center.
It seemed as though Valley looked comfortable with a three-run lead, needing only three outs to shut the door.
Perhaps they were a bit too comfortable.
An error to start the inning put Ally Bartoer at first. Then, a Kelsey Casto single to left gave the Eagles two base runners. Finally, Kennadi Rockhold loaded the base paths on an infield bunt single.
With the top of the order due up and no outs, Eastern regained some energy that ultimately propelled them to make a push.
Mollie Maxon brought in a run when she was hit by a pitch to make the score 4-2. After Grueser popped out, Sidney Cook tied the game with a two RBI single to center field.
Cook, a Bowling Green State University commit, finished 3-for-6 with a double and two singles.
The Eagles had a shot at closing out the contest then and there, with Maxon and Cook later in scoring position and only one out.
Brown would dig deep and take a stand, forcing a groundout back to her for the second out, and a pop out to second base to end the inning.
“It was an up and down game,” Spriggs said. “We go up 4-1, and then they came back and tied it 4-4.”
Struggling to score, it would take until the 14th inning for another run to cross home plate for either side.
The Indians plated Caldwell on an RBI single from Kensie Spencer after Caldwell started the half inning with a leadoff double.
Caldwell was advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt from Kuhn. An often overlooked stat, Kuhn laid down three sacrifice bunts in the game, and each time her bunt attempt successfully advanced the runner.
Valley would score only one run in the 14th, leaving the bases loaded to Eastern’s advantage.
The Eagles were glad, because they could muster just one run themselves in the bottom frame.
A double from Grueser began the inning, and the Indians then decided to intentionally walk Cook. An error in the infield from Valley allowed Grueser to tie the game at five, and Eastern had two runners on base.
Brown again battled, striking out Emmalea Durst and then getting a pop out for the third out of the 14th.
In what would be the final inning, the Indians plated two runs in the 15th when Markins found a crease in the defense on the game winning single.
It didn’t come without a fight from a resilient Eagles club, of course.
Eastern quickly recorded an out to start the inning, but saw Kennadi Rockhold reach on an infield single. Maxon then singled to left, and the Eagles were threatening to tie again with only one out.
However, they would fall short. Markins caught a fly ball down the first base line for the second out, and Brown struck out Roberts looking to seal the deal.
After 15 grueling innings, finally a team was advancing to the district final. Playing in over two full softball games, Valley had just enough left in the tank to cruise to the finish line.
Their head coach was there to motivate them throughout, encouraging them to keep pushing towards victory.
“Keep ‘em going, don’t quit,” Spriggs said he told his team. “Whatever you do, don’t quit, and believe in what you’re doing. That was a good ballgame, it really was.”
You certainly don’t have to be a softball coach or a sports reporter to see this game for what it was – a thriller that went down to the wire. It was an epitome of survive-and-advance tournament play, and a definition of what the word resiliency really means.
The scrappy Valley Indians will look to keep their tournament run chugging along against either Notre Dame or Racine Southern on Saturday at Rio Grande. Notre Dame held a 5-0 lead over Southern in the bottom of the fifth inning before darkness set in, which moved the completion of the game to Friday at 4:30 p.m.