AKRON -- The back-to-back state championships, the 62 straight victories, the hopes of a national championship … everything was wiped away in stunning fashion for the Keystone Wildcats on Friday morning at Firestone Stadium.
Hebron Lakewood built an early lead before withstanding a furious Keystone rally in the bottom of the seventh inning to come away with an improbable 4-3 victory in the Division II state semifinals.
It was the Wildcats’ first loss since a 5-1 defeat to Akron Hoban in the 2017 state semifinals. They were ranked No. 1 in the nation by FloSoftball going into the state tournament.
“One game does not define this group,” Keystone coach Jim Piazza said. “You can tell me another group that can go out there and win 62 straight games and one loss is not going to define who they are. This hurts right now, but when you get a chance to look back at what you accomplished as a group … that’s freaking amazing.”
The game started Thursday night before being postponed due to a heavy rainfall with the score tied at 1 in the second inning.
Keystone senior pitcher Sydney Campbell, who saw her state-record 63-game winning streak come to an end, struck out the first three batters she faced Friday morning. She also sat down the final 14 Hebron Lakewood batters, but in between the Lancers managed one big inning.
Dylan Cunningham led off the third with a single to left field before Campbell walked Mickayla Malone and Piazza made the decision to intentionally walk Tigan Braskie to load the bases.
“We did have to think about it a little bit and it was nice that the umpire called timeout for them to get a runner, so it gave us some time to think about it,” Piazza said. “(Braskie’s) a heck of a hitter and we just didn’t want the game blown open that way. We were just going to trust the defense, and we did what we wanted, we got the ground balls where we needed them but we just didn’t finish the plays.”
Taylor Saling hit a line drive off the glove of third baseman Madi Herrington to score the first run, Keelie Davis grounded out to Herrington to score another and Emily Wallace singled up the middle to give Hebron Lakewood a 4-1 lead.
“I don’t know if that inning we were going full force,” Piazza said. “We were there but we were just going though the motions instead of all out. After that we regrouped and did a nice job, but unfortunately you don’t get do-backs.”
Hebron Lakewood (27-5) starting pitcher Katie Chittum surrendered 10 hits, but spread them around and didn’t allow Keystone (28-1) to string too many together for a big inning.
The Lancers also committed four errors in the game, but had just as many great defensive plays that erased extra-base hits or runs.
“I think I counted four plays that were just amazing plays and you have to give credit to them,” Piazza said. “They stepped up and did what they needed to do. That ball goes one way or another and it breaks open the game. They made the plays when they needed to make them.”
Keystone left runners stranded at second and third in the third inning, at second in the fourth and at third in the sixth. The Wildcats had another solid scoring chance in the fifth when Herrington reached second with one out and then stole third, but Herrington came off the base and was called out on the tag to take the wind out of the Wildcats’ sails.
“We’re aggressive … that’s our style,” Piazza said. “That’s a read on the players and she read that perfectly. She was safe but she obviously overslid the base. The only thing I was trying to ask was the girl was blocking the base and that’s why she overslid the base, because she had to go around her. I won’t tell you the response I got. That’s part of the game. We make mistakes but that’s Keystone softball and we ain’t changing.”
The Wildcats finally broke through in the seventh inning.
No. 9 hitter Angel Minisall led off with a double that got past the center fielder, then scored on Marlie McNulty’s double over the center fielder’s head. McNulty then scored off Herrington’s single to left field and Herrington advanced to second when the left fielder misplayed the ball.
Herrington, the potential tying run, advanced to third on Autumn Acord’s groundout to first base, but was stranded when Shelby Fortune grounded out to third and Ashley Wolfe struck out to end the game.
“I give these kids a lot of credit. They had a lot of heart in that last inning,” Piazza said. “They could have easily quit and they didn’t quit. They fought, they fought, they fought. I can go home with us giving everything we got in that last inning. If we didn’t go out there fighting, that would have been tough. They have nothing to be ashamed of, they played hard.”
The loss ends the careers for a decorated senior class. Acord, Campbell, Fortune and Ali Pyles reached the state tournament all four years of their high school careers, going unbeaten and winning the state title last season.
“Just playing with these girls has been a privilege the last four years,” Acord said. “I’m really going to miss catching Syd, and having Ali and Shelby and all them on the field. It’s just a privilege to be a part of this program and I’m thankful for it.”
Hebron Lakewood 4, Keystone 3
Hebron Lakewood Keystone
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Cunningham 4 1 1 0 McNulty 4 1 1 1
Malone 3 2 1 0 Herrington 4 0 3 1
Braskie 1 1 0 0 Acord 4 0 2 0
Saling 3 0 1 2 Modock 0 1 0 0
Davis 2 0 0 1 Fortune 4 0 1 1
Wallace 3 0 1 1 Cassell 1 0 0 0
Morrison 3 0 0 0 Miller 1 0 0 0
McLean 0 0 0 0 Wolfe 2 0 0 0
Griffith 3 0 0 0 Pyles 3 0 2 0
Young 3 0 0 0 Kerr 2 0 0 0
Chittum 0 0 0 0 Bowen 3 0 0 0
Bayles 0 0 0 0 Minisall 3 0 1 0
Duta 0 1 0 0
Campbell 0 0 0 0
Totals 25 4 4 4 Totals 31 3 10 3
Hebron Lakewood 103 000 0 -- 4 4 4
Keystone 100 000 2 -- 3 10 1
2B – McNulty, Acord, Fortune, Pyles, Minisall. 3B – Malone. CS – Herrington. LOB – Hebron Lakewood 4, Keystone 9.
IP H R ER BB SO
Chittum (W, 11-1) 6 10 3 3 1 2
Bayles (S) 1 0 0 0 0 1
Campbell (L, 25-1) 7 4 4 4 3 9
WP – Campbell.
Umpires – Home: Paul Melcher; 1B: Bruce Varner/George Gulas; 2B: William Jordan; 3B: Terry Bowshier.
Time – 1:42. Attendance – 3,300.