After letting a 5-0 lead slip away, the Shawnee Braves desperately needed a defensive stop. The game-tying run stood on third with no outs in the bottom of the seventh.
The Braves, as it turned out, were Golden.
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“We worked on that play and we call it Gold,” Shawnee senior third baseman Claudia Spitzer said of her game-changing defensive gem. “I was hoping it would work.”
Shawnee led rival Kenton Ridge 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh in a pressure-filled Division II sectional final Tuesday. The tension increased when Shawnee pitcher Mary Britton fielded a comeback grounder, but fired the throw into right field. Kenton Ridge freshman Maci Runkle, the Cougars’ No. 9 hitter, raced to third.
KR junior Peyton Fleming then hit a hard grounder to Spitzer. She fielded it but faked the throw to first. Runkle, caught leaning toward home, was called out as both lunged back to the bag.
After a Carly Turner single put Cougars on second and first, Spitzer gloved a line drive rocketed right at her to set off the Braves’ sectional title celebration.
“I really didn’t even think about it. It was a reaction,” Spitzer said of the hot-corner line drive. “That was huge. This team has always been our rival and they’re always good competition.”
Shawnee (22-5) jumped out front 5-0 with two runs in the third, one in the fourth and two more in the fifth. The big blow was Britton’s two-run homer to left field in the top of the fifth, her fifth home run of the season, to make it 5-0.
The Braves defense made it stand until the bottom of the fifth.
Kenton Ridge (20-5) loaded the bases with one out on a walk, single and hit by pitch. Sophomore Jordan Rucker cleared them with a triple to right-center that landed at the base of the outfield fence to make it 5-4. The Cougars stranded a runner in the sixth and ended the game with two on in the seventh.
“We did a lot of things wrong today,” KR coach Sarah Schalnat said, emphasizing the play at third didn’t solely determine the outcome. “We didn’t play defense like we’ve played all season. We just didn’t do our part today. … (Shawnee is) a great team and that’s what I expected today, a very close game.”
Turner, Kenton Ridge’s starter, allowed allowed seven hits. Turner (18-4) struck out four and walked one. Britton (17-4) allowed six hits, struck out four and walked two.
The teams split the regular-season series with Shawnee winning 2-1 at home and Kenton Ridge winning 11-0 at home.
“When we split in the season we knew this could be anyone’s game, but we were determined to make it ours,” Britton said.
Britton and the Braves defense held the Cougars scoreless through the first four innings despite allowing five base runners. A diving catch by center fielder Paree Furness, a long-ranging out by second baseman Makenna Loveless and Spitzer’s gems bailed out the Braves.
“I get anxiety when those things happen so I just tell myself to breathe in and breathe out and I will be fine,” Britton said of her overthrow in the fifth. “Everything will work out for itself. … That kind of put me in a panic a little bit. I was determined not to let her score so when Claudia made that stellar play that just put me over the moon. I was so excited.”
Shawnee advances to its first district final since 2014 and plays Eaton at 5 p.m. Friday at West Carrollton High School. Eaton beat Chaminade Julienne 9-1 on Tuesday.
“It was a really good team win,” Shawnee coach Chris Roberts said. “Kenton Ridge is an excellent softball team. … (Defense has) kind of been the trademark of this team. We play really good defense. That showed up today.”
Especially in the seventh inning.
“We just couldn’t get the last one,” Schalnat said. “Shawnee played a great game and best of luck to them. We’re always rooting for them and the CBC.”
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