Lady Tigers finish the season at 23-4 overall after losing to Salisbury 10-1
The Pilot Grove Lady Tigers softball team had its dream season come to a shattering halt Saturday in a Class 1 quarterfinal game against the Salisbury Panthers.
With the winner to move on to the Final Four this coming Friday at Killian Softball Complex in Springfield, the Lady Tigers knew they had their work cut out against Salisbury pitcher Bryn Wooldridge.
As it turned out, Wooldridge was better than advertised while striking out 13 batters in seven innings while limiting Pilot Grove to just two hits for a 10-1 victory.
While the Lady Panthers (22-4) will move on to the semifinal round to face Knox County (18-4-1) on Friday at 1 p.m., Pilot Grove’s season come to a close at 23-4 overall.
Pilot Grove coach Neal Bailey said some days things don't go well. “That day was today,” Bailey said. “We just gave them too many outs.”
Up until the sixth inning, the Lady Tigers had just two runners reach base against Wooldridge after the junior hurler issued a one out walk in the fourth and a hit batter with one out in the fifth.
Prior to that Pilot Grove had nine strikeouts and one ground out through four-plus innings.
Of course Pilot Grove senior Samarah Bailey had her moments as well while holding Salisbury to just one hit-a lead off single by Brooke Stefankiewicz-in the first inning.
However in the top-half of the fourth, the Lady Panthers finally got on the board with two runs on three hits and two errors to lead Pilot Grove 2-0.
While all 10 runs for Salisbury were unearned in the game, Pilot Grove seemed to struggle more with the wind than the Lady Panthers, especially in the outfield with fly balls dropping that normally would be caught. The Lady Tigers had three fly balls alone in the fourth drop due to the strong wind.
Salisbury’s first run of the ballgame also came after a double to center by Abigail Gebhardt and a routine fly ball fell between short and second. The second run scored after a single to left by Cayden Stapleton.
Bailey said his daughter pitched as good a game as possible, and the Lady Tigers shut down their small ball running game, they just didn’t make the plays behind her when it came to pop ups.
“Samarah is a rise ball pitcher that gets a lot of pop up outs when they make contact. With the 30 mph winds those pop ups became difficult plays,” Bailey said. “All runs scored after what would have typically been the third out of the half innings. Without the wind, who knows the outcome. Offensively we couldn’t get things going early enough. The last few games our bats haven’t come around until the later innings. This time it was just too late.”
Pilot Grove was also running out of time with just nine outs remaining. But after both teams left runners on in the fifth, Salisbury came back and broke the game wide open in the sixth with eight runs on six hits, which included a three-run inside the park home run to right by Amanda Nejedly to make it 7-0. Wooldridge also hit a solo shot to left while Cheyenne Young belted a two-run dinger to right to extend the lead to 10-0.
Pilot Grove responded in its half of the sixth, though. After a come from behind victory Wednesday night against previously unbeaten Vienna for a 4-3 victory, could the Lady Tigers muster another late inning win?
Of course it didn’t look good for Pilot Grove after Wooldridge recorded a strikeout and flyout for two outs in the inning. However after a double to left center by Emily Schupp and a single to left by Abby Schupp, the Lady Tigers had something brewing. Meanwhile, after intentionally walking Mel Wolfe to load the bases, Samarah Bailey picked up a bases-loaded walk to bring in Emily Schupp for the first run to make it 10-1. But that all ended when Wooldridge got the next batter to end the inning.
Then, after a 1-2-3 inning by Salisbury in its half of the seventh, Wooldridge came back and retired the side in the bottom half of the inning to end the game.
Bailey said the girls generated some offense in the sixth but it was a little too late to come.
“We had good at bats early with right at 50% quality at bats compared to their 25% for the game, we just couldn’t connect with enough of the ball to make them also contend with the wind,” Bailey said. “We fouled plenty of balls straight back, but just missed enough. We were on the edge of getting to her, it was just not early enough.”
Samarah Bailey took the loss in the circle for Pilot Grove to finish the season at 21-4. In seven innings pitched, Bailey struck out 14 batters and gave up 10 runs on eight hits.
Wooldridge also went 3-for-4 in the game for Salisbury with a home run and one RBI. Gebhardt finished the game with two doubles while Nejedly homered and drove in three runs. Young also homered and drove in two runs while Stefankiewicz added one single.
For Pilot Grove, Emily Schupp went 1-for-3 with a double while Abby Schupp had one single. Bailey also had one RBI on the bases-loaded walk in the sixth.
“We had nine girls to start the year, and didn’t really know what to expect,” Bailey said. “Thankfully we avoided injury throughout the season, and could play. Having so few girls adds an extra dimension to games that limited our play at times. Also, there is no real way to simulate game situations during practice with only 9, then later 10 girls. But give credit the girls, they worked hard every minute of every day in practice. They came to work every day with maximin intent and effort. I am very proud and impressed by these girls regarding their desire and work ethic. We are a small 1A school with MSHSAA listing of 69 students. We played, and beat much larger schools than us. Our only loss before Salisbury to a 1A school was to Salisbury, which is a large 1A school, if there is such a thing. I looked back as far as we have records and a far as I can tell we set the single season record for wins with 23. We took third in the Versailles tournament, second in the Marshall tournament, won the Cairo tournament, won conference, won districts, and made it again to the quarterfinal round by beating the only undefeated team in the state at the time in the sectional game. The seniors made it to quarterfinals three out of their four years, including the appearance in the state championship game last year.”