KENT - Sixty feet was all that separated the Mathews Mustangs from a second straight trip to the Division IV state softball tournament.
It might as well have been 900 feet for the Mustangs, who lost, 3-0, to the Colonel Crawford Eagles in an eight-inning regional final Saturday at Kent State University.
Eagles pitcher Nickyla Garverick had done her best up to the bottom of the seventh inning to keep the Mustangs off the scoreboard with solid work in the circle. Garverick used her fielding skills and some quick thinking to prevent the winning run from crossing the plate with pinch-runner Paula Sponsler on third base in the seventh.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Mathews’ softball players, from left, Tabby Granelly (15), Paula Sponsler (1), Maddy Nicula (00), Karli Romesberg (6) and Jacki Rhine (21) console each other as they wait to receive the Division IV regional runner-up trophy after losing to Colonel Crawford, 3-0, in eight innings on Saturday in Kent.
Garverick neatly fielded a one-hop grounder by Hollie Shreves, faked the throw to first and then turned around and threw to catcher Courtney Tinkey, who tagged out Sponsler.
Keeping the Mustangs from scoring opened the door for a three-run top of the eighth inning for the Eagles, who will be making their first state appearance since 2002.
"We had opportunities all game long. The ball just didn't bounce our way," Mustangs coach Jim Nicula said. "We didn't get the key ground ball to find a hole and get through there."
The Mustangs, who bowed out in the state final last season, end the season with a 22-9 record. The Eagles advance with an 18-8 record.
Garverick and Mustangs pitcher Cheyenne Eggens were locked in a great duel for seven innings. Garverick used finesse and good fielding behind her, while Eggens was dominant most of the way in striking out 16 and not allowing a walk.
Both pitchers appeared to tire somewhat in the seventh. Garverick walked pinch-hitter Karli Romesberg leading off and then moved Sponsler to second and third with consecutive wild pitches. Shreves then hit the bouncer back to Garverick on what turned out to be the key moment of the game.
"Our mental focus is to get our job done and to play the game like we were down," Garverick said. "We were focused on getting the outs and making sure she stayed at third base."
Eggens allowed an infield single to Jada Klingenberger and sharply-hit singles to right field by Cassie Sager and Brenna Brown in the top of the eighth. Brown's singled scored Klingenberger.
Lexi Hoepf lined out to second baseman Maddie Williams, but a bunt single by Kendra Hudson loaded the bases. A fielding error on a play at second allowed Sager to score. Brown came home on a fielder's choice on a bunt by Bri Rankins.
Tabby Granelly reached on a throwing error leading off the bottom of the eighth for Mathews. Williams grounded out, Jessica Marsico popped out and Maddi Grimes lined out to deep right to end the game.
"I think Cheyenne did tire a little bit there at the end," Nicula said. "This game is about working ahead in the count. If you get behind in the count you have to start bringing it in over the plate a little bit."
Eggens breezed through the first six innings. Garverick had a two-out single in the first and stole second, but Rankins struck out. Eggens had nine strikeouts through three innings and 15 through the first six.
Eggens allowed a one-out double to Garverick in the seventh. Garverick stole third and Rankins reached second on a fielder's choice as Garverick remained at third. Tinkey was tagged out by the first baseman Grimes trying to bunt and Leianna Massie struck out.
The Mustangs had seven runners in scoring position. Marsico reached on a fielder's choice and moved to third on a throwing error in the first. With two outs Garverick struck out Meredith Grimes.
Marsico singled leading off the fourth and moved to second on a ground out and third on a fielder's choice when Garverick's throw to third was late. Garverick retired Jacki Rhine on a grounder back to the circle, and Shreves grounded out to first.
"I've always said that when you get this far in the tournament you need some breaks and you need some good things to happen," Eagles coach Chuck Huggins said. "Our kids never lost that faith. We call that heart. Making plays when plays needed to be made."
As a result the Eagles are headed to Firestone Stadium in Akron.