PICKERINGTON — Over the balance of its postseason run to the regional semifinals, the Valley Indians’ softball program showed off the tremendous poise that had the program competing with the very best opponents across not only the Southeast District, but the entire state at the end of the year.
Unfortunately, Wednesday evening’s contest against the Danville Aces’ softball program just happened to come out on the other side for Montie Spriggs’ club.
Despite a complete-game five-hitter from Faith Brown and two hits from the very player who helped spearhead Valley’s tremendous run to the Region 15 stage with a thrilling 15-inning victory over Reedsville Eastern (Eastern Meigs) and a nine-inning special over Notre Dame, Valley’s run was halted as an RBI single by Brown in the first inning was negated by one run apiece from Danville in the second and third frames as the Lady Aces took home a 2-1 victory over the Lady Indians in a Division IV, Region 15 Semifinal contest at Pickerington Central High School in Pickerington.
In Montie Spriggs’ eyes, the affair simply came down to Danville’s ability to make the extra plays.
“Danville’s a pretty good team, and they’ve been here before,” Spriggs said. “They didn’t quit, either. They put the ball in play, and we just didn’t make the plays that we needed to. You hate to get beat, especially by a 2-1 margin, but we had a great year. I’m very proud of every one of the girls. They played hard. Nobody would’ve thought in the community that we’d be at the point where we were at today. I asked the girls, ‘Do you all believe that during the first part of the year, that we’d be at the regional level?’ They all said, ‘No.’ They played very well and gelled very well together, it just wasn’t our day today.”
In the opening frame of action, Valley certainly proved that it more than belonged on the regional stage as the two-way abilities of Brown, in addition to the play at the top of the order, allowed the Lady Indians to strike first in the contest.
The plate discipline of Margie Caldwell, Madison Kuhn, Marissa Markins, and Kirbi Sommers — who each saw at least five or more pitches in each of their at-bats — allowed Valley to strike as Brown’s single to right scored Caldwell, who walked to begin the bottom of the first inning. Danville ace Sammie Lavender had already thrown 36 pitches by this point, and the Lady Indians had a 1-0 lead as a result.
“We were very patient at the plate,” Spriggs said. “Sometimes, we take too many pitches again, but we made (Lavender) throw a lot in the first inning, and in the fourth and fifth innings, you could tell that all of the pitches she had thrown was taking a toll on her.”
As Valley took its 1-0 advantage into the second inning, it became apparent that Brown was going to be a tough cookie to break apart. In her complete game five-hitter, the senior faced the minimum in three frames and only faced one batter above the minimum in two additional marks as the Lady Indians remained in the fight throughout the entire affair.
“Faith’s done that all year long,” Spriggs said of Brown’s ability to battle. “We’ve always got ourselves back in a position to fight for the win, and Faith is a huge part of that. She was tremendous all game long.”
However, Danville’s offensive execution in the second and third innings proved to be just enough to obtain an advantage. In the former frame, a Kaitlynn Briggs single, along with a sacrifice bunt and two errors, allowed the Lady Aces to tie the score, and a McKinley Alberts double, along with a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly RBI by Lavender gave Danville a 2-1 lead through three innings of action.
The Lady Indians, though, had more than their own fair share of chances.
In the fourth frame, Brown’s leadoff single allowed the senior to advance to third base behind a groundout and a sacrifice bunt, and in the fifth frame, Lavender’s wildness inside the circle allowed Halee Stone, Kuhn, and Markins to reach base with one out to load the bases.
Unfortunately, a 1-3 groundout in the fourth frame, and a baserunning mistake on a well-hit ball to center fielder by Sommers that ultimately led to a double play in the fifth, allowed Danville to get out of both innings without a scratch. Brown reached again on an error in the sixth frame, but on a passed ball, the senior gunned it for second and was thrown out on a bang-bang play at the bag, and in the seventh, the Lady Indians went down in order as the Lady Aces ultimately held on for the 2-1 victory.
The disappointment, however, was nonexistent — and rightfully so, especially considering the fight that the Lady Indians showed through 31 innings between district and regional play.
“We had a couple of mistakes, one being the infield errors in the second inning and the other with the bases loaded and one out, where we had a baserunning mistake,” Spriggs said. “The young lady who made the baserunning mistake (Halee Stone) is a freshman, and she feels like she let the whole team down. I told her, ‘We win as a team and we lose as a team. Look at the stuff that you have done as a first-year varsity player that helped us get to that position. That play is over with. The impact that you made on our team isn’t.’”
With the season at its close, Spriggs and the Valley softball program will have to replace each of their top five batters in the order, including Brown, Caldwell, Kuhn, Markins, and Sommers. All five players were not only four-year letterwinners, but four-year starters for the Lady Indians, and Brown, Caldwell, and Markins all obtained collegiate softball opportunities at Shawnee State University as a result of their play.
“All five of them are four-year starters,” Spriggs said. “They’ll be sorely missed. They’re like our children. We’ve been around them for all of these years. We hate to see them leave. We hope for the best for Faith, Margie, and Marissa at the collegiate level in softball, and we hope for the best for Kirbi and Madison as college students. They’ll be successful in whatever they choose to do. They know that I have their back, and if they need any help, all they have to do is call me and I’ll help them. They’ll be sorely missed. I love every one of them to death.”