Another historic season for the East Hall High softball team ended in heartbreaking fashion with a 6-4 loss to Bremen in the third game of a second-round playoff series Thursday at East Hall Park.
The Lady Blue Devils (21-13) scored all their runs in the top of the seventh to rally past the Vikings (21-11), who fall one game short of a first-ever state quarterfinal appearance in Columbus.
The loss comes less than 24 hours after East Hall used late-game theatrics to beat Bremen in Game 2, and before that, watched a furious rally fall just short in Game 1. It once again proved to softball coach Josh Joiner the word ‘quit’ is not in their vocabulary.
“They have pushed to the last out in just about every game we’ve played, especially the ones that matter — last night, both games and today,” Joiner said. “That speaks to their character, in my opinion...So that’s on them. They don’t quit, because that game, it could have been real ugly. I’m proud of them.”
After throwing nearly 200 pitches the night before, Macy Banks had a strong start with six scoreless frames, three strikeouts and only three hits allowed. Senior third baseman Steffanie Redmon (2 for 4, run scored) even added a pair of spectacular plays in the fifth and sixth innings, throwing out a pair of runners from her knees. But the otherwise steady East Hall defense had some lapses as the Blue Devils' batting order awakened late. In the blink of an eye, a throwing error by the pitcher put two runners on with only one out. And the visitors belted four hits off of Banks and capitalized on three additional Lady Vikings errors to surge ahead during a six-run top of the seventh.
“You gotta catch the ball to win,” Joiner said of the unfortunate final inning. “Our whole thing this year has been we’ve got good pitching, and we can hit. But the pitching doesn’t really matter if you can’t catch it.”
As for Bremen coach Amy Pointer, she watched her team approach the plate in the seventh and deliver in order to preserve a deep playoff run and the chance to play No. 2 seed Cook next Thursday in Columbus.
“I don’t want to seem selfish but...At the end of the fifth inning, I said, ‘I’m not ready to be done.’” said Pointer, who was doused with a water bucket by her players after the win. “They kept fighting, and thank God. Because that changed and ultimately changed everything.”
“All my seniors were able to get to the plate again. It’s just bittersweet that they got to come back and do their thing. That’s what they’ve been doing all season with that pressure.”
Sophomore Ali Newland tied the game with a two-run double to right field scoring senior pinch runner Jasmine Middleton. Seniors Caitlyn Smith and Ragan Folds — Pointer’s daugher — added two-run singles, back-to-back, following consecutive of East Hall errors put runners on.
Hitting was never the issue — but timing — for East Hall, which scattered seven hits off of Devils starting pitcher Ashlinn Garner, but left 11 runners stranded, including two in scoring position. The Lady Vikings got a solo home run from Abigail Brown (2 for 4, run scored, two RBI) in the bottom of the third inning, granting the top-seeded a one-run lead that stayed true for the next three and ⅓ innings. Brown, who also plated the go-ahead runs with a three-run shot in Game 2 to stave off elimination by pouncing on an inside pitch from Garner and roped the ball deep and over the left-field fence.
The Vikings otherwise failed to build on that momentum, as the Devils used a string of pitches — high and inside, low — to force numerous pop ups and ground balls throughout. Turner reached on a throwing error by the shortstop to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and a wild pitch moved her to second base. Cox hit a single deep to right field, though wasn’t quite deep enough for Turner, who was held up at third. Jennifer Lopez popped up to second for the final out to grant the Devils an escape from a mini-jam.
Brown drove in the Vikings’ second run of the afternoon with a sharply-hit double down the third-base line to plate Redmon who reached on a double right before her teammate came up to bat. Two more runs were added to the board with a Bremen throwing error.
Joiner says farewell to four-year staples Cierra Pedraza and the Brenau University bound Redmon, two that helped guide the Lady Vikings to back-to-back Region 7-3A championships and the program’s deepest playoff run.
“They did exactly what they were asked to do this year, and that wasn’t necessarily being the queens of the team and lead everything. ...They did their job,” the coach said. “That’s what they’ve done for the past four years. So I am really-really proud of those two girls.”