RICHMOND DALE — Sometimes, the best thing about youth is that it knows no better —and just plays.
And, combine that with confidence and momentum picked up as an underdog during a tournament tilt, and Friday’s result is often times an exact case in point.
For the young Minford Falcons, competing in the rugged Southern Ohio Conference Division II, they have taken their lumps at times this season —entering their Division III sectional championship bout at Southeastern.
But the Falcons flinched not on Friday, scoring all three of their runs in the opening three innings and not committing a single error behind freshman pitcher Addi Lute —as Minford pulled off a 3-2 upset of the host Panthers to win their second softball sectional championship in as many seasons.
Of course, the entire 2020 campaign was canceled because of the coronavirus threat, as Friday’s title marked the 17th in the Falcons’ proud program history.
Speaking of 17, the Falcons were seeded that low in the Division III Southeast District tournament, as the eighth-seeded Panthers —a member of the Scioto Valley Conference — ended the year at 16-10.
It is Minford’s sixth sectional championship within the past decade, and one which the now 10-14 Falcons forged by playing arguably their best game of the season.
Indeed, against the likes of Wheelersburg, Waverly, West and South Webster, wins aren’t easy coming in the SOC II.
However, as Minford coach Art Doll did say, that gauntlet does make a youthful unit like the Falcons better prepared for facing tournament teams.
The Falcons, which sport four seniors including standout catcher Andi Blevins, are primarily made up of freshmen and sophomores.
Blevins, in fact, was the only returning starter for Doll entering the spring.
“This is great for us. Our league is so tough, and when you’re playing that kind of competition, it does help you out in the tournament and it does make a difference. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, and it’s hard to keep the kids interested when you have some losses like we do in a long season. But we pulled through today, and I couldn’t ask for any better bunch of kids,” said the coach.
The Falcons mixed that youth and experience both offensively and defensively, as Lute —despite giving up a dozen Southeastern hits — left 10 Panthers on base, including the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
With Minford leading 3-1, and Southeastern at the top of the batting order, Lexie Lockwood singled for the fourth time in the game —as Grace Wireman walked for the third time.
After Lute landed her third and final strikeout, Audrey Scott singled to center to load the bases, as senior Cidney Huff singled to center with the Minford infield in —scoring Lockwood and keeping the Panther bags completely full.
However, two Falcon seniors combined for a gigantic second out —as a ground ball by senior Kynsi Popp was scooped up by a charging second baseman Megan Johnson, who fired home to Blevins for the 4-2 forceout at the plate.
That more importantly kept the score at 3-2, and still with the Panther bases loaded, Lute induced Hannah Lougheed to ground out to her twin sister Harley Lute at first base to end the game.
The key, Doll said, was that Minford made it through by not making any errors —as Addi Lute, who faced 34 batters, left Southeastern runners stranded time and again.
The Panthers previously left runners at second in the first and third, at second and third in the second, on the corners in the fifth —and finally at third in the sixth after Popp singled and advanced on a pair of groundouts.
Minford also threw out Wireman at third following Lockwood’s initial run, Lougheed was caught stealing second for the first out in the fourth following her single, and after Lockwood bunted for a basehit and Wireman walked and Erin Richendollar sacrificed them over in the fifth, Lute fielded a Scott grounder and went home to Blevins for that fielder’s choice.
“We battled very well and the biggest thing was our defense was strong. We’ve been struggling the last five or six games, but we brought our ‘A’ game today. I don’t think we had an error and our freshman pitcher (Addi Lute) pitched her heart out,” said Doll. “She hit her spots, found a rhythm and the defense made the plays behind her when they needed to. We quit thinking and just made the plays. I thought it was an excellent defensive game, and our defense won it for us. They could have easily scored a lot more when they had bases loaded twice. But we shut them down.”
Especially the speedy Lockwood, Doll said.
The leadoff Lockwood singled in all four of her at-bats, but she scored just twice and stole just once.
She scored Southeastern’s opening run for the 1-1 tie when she singled, Wireman walked and Richendollar and Scott singled —with Scott scoring her.
In the second and with two outs, Jesse Higley hit a single to left and Lockwood landed a long bunt single, but Lute stranded them in scoring position — by inducing Wireman to pop out to Blevins.
Huff hammered a two-out double to left-centerfield in the third, but again Lute left her there.
“Our goal was to slow her (Lockwood) down and stop her from scoring. She is so fast,” said Doll. “Although she had four hits and scored both of their runs, no one else scored and that was enough.”
And, three runs was enough for the Falcons for the win.
Blevins singled to lead off the game, stole second and third, and scored on a Johnson sacrifice fly to center.
In the third, Johnson drew a one-out walk against Southeastern pitcher Richendollar —and Mackenzie Koverman, Lute and Miranda Johnson all singled consecutively to left field — with Megan Johnson scoring to break the 1-1 tie and courtesy runner Kaylee Essman crossing on Miranda Johnson’s single when an error was made in the outfield.
From there, the only other Falcon hit was an infield single by Loralie Martin in the fourth, as the Falcons left four runners —including Miranda Johnson and Harley Lute in the second.
Richendollar hit Johnson with a pitch and Lute reached on an error, as Lute later walked in the fifth — before Blevins was hit by a pitch in the seventh.
Richendollar faced 29 total Falcons and struck out seven, and actually suffered a tough-luck pitching loss.
“Our goal was to get a run in the first inning to set the pace for us. We got the three runs in the first three innings and just held them,” said Doll. “We took their mojo away and we kept ours in our dugout the whole time.”
That indeed Minford did, and sometimes not knowing better and just playing makes all the difference as an underdog.
With the win, Minford moves on to Wednesday’s district semifinals against Adena —the fifth-seeded squad and another SVC opponent, which outlasted Oak Hill of the SOC II 6-5 in nine innings to capture its sectional championship.
Truth be told, the Warriors will resemble — Doll agreed —a lot of what the Falcons saw in Southeastern.
So hence, he likes his Falcons’ chances, as the youngsters in Red look to gain more confidence against another tournament team in Blue.
“I think they will be very similar to Southeastern. I think their talent is the same,” said Doll. “I say we have just as good a chance as anybody does of beating them.”
* * *
Minford 102 000 0 — 3 5 0
Southeastern 100 000 1 — 2 12 2
MHS: Addi Lute 7IP, 2R, 2ER, 12H, 0HB, 3BB, 3K, 34BF
SHS: Erin Richendollar 7IP, 3R, 2ER, 5H, 2HB, 2BB, 7K, 29BF
W — Addi Lute; L — Erin Richendollar
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved