WEST LAFAYETTE – Leo had one final chance to keep their championship hopes alive Saturday night.
Trailing Center Grove 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Kiley Patterson fouled a ball off her foot to stay alive, and then hit another ball foul.
On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, she finally made strong contact and the liner glanced off the glove of Trojans third baseman Lex Warner and into left field, giving the Lions just their third hit of the night.
But Simia Spahiev couldn't keep the rally going, grounding out to first to make Center Grove the softball state champion for the seventh time.
“We didn't come out strong hitting – I feel like we weren't really prepared,” said Leo pitcher Ashley Miller. “It was widespread, everybody in the order. I think that was the difference-maker, my defense played great. It was just the hitting part.”
The Trojans took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first without a hit, and that would prove to be all they needed to clinch the title. With two outs in the top of the first, Center Grove pitcher Abby Herbst was walked by Miller, and Sydney McConnell came in as a courtesy runner. McConnell stole second and then came around to second when Lexi Fair hit a fly ball to right field which was dropped by Haley Hines.
“If you don't score any runs, you're not going to win a game,” Leo coach Ben Shappell said. “That early mistake cost us a run, but we've got to be able to put some hits together, and three hits just didn't do it today.”
Neither team would manage a hit until the fourth inning, and after Leo's defensive miscue in the first inning the defense would remain stellar, keeping the Lions in the game until the bitter end.
In the top of the third, Simia Spahiev made an over-the-shoulder grab in right field for the second out. Catcher Kiley Patterson caught a Center Grove runner attempting to steal second in the fourth and then caught a foul pop up behind the plate to end the inning. Haley Hines laid out for a diving catch in foul territory to end the sixth inning, stranding a Trojan runner on third base. Kennedy Shade turned back-to-back plays at short to get the final two outs in the top of the seventh.
“We had some huge, huge plays,” Shappell said. “She makes them look easy, but those plays that Kennedy made at short are tough plays to make, charging and making that throw. And those girls are fast.”
But Leo simply couldn't get anything going against Wisconsin commit Abby Herbst, who struck out 12.
“She throws a lot of speed, and on the outside corner,” Miller said of going up against Herbst. “It's tough to hit it, because I don't know if it's going to be a ball or strike. You're looking for your one pitch up there, and it's very quick. You don't know when to decide to hit it or not. That's the most difficult part.”
Leo received some consolation after the loss as first baseman Ellenor Schelm was named the Mental Attitude Award winner.
“I just want to thank every single one of you guys for making these past four years amazing, and you're all going to do great things,” Schelm told her teammates lined up along the baseline as she received the award.