MINFORD, Ohio — The one-inning rampage was just too much to over come.
The sixth-seeded Southern softball team had its lead and postseason hopes disappear, as second-seeded Leesburg Fairfield scored nine times in the third inning, en route to a 12-8 victory on Thursday evening in the Division IV district semifinal at Minford High School.
Southern (11-12) started things on the right foot, scoring three runs in the top of the opening inning. First, Sydney Cleland drove in Jaiden Roberts, who tripled to start the game. Next, Paige VanMeter doubled home Josie Cundiff and Ciera Whitesell.
The Lady Lions — competing in their 16th straight district tournament — got two runs back in with two outs in the bottom of the first, scoring on a wild pitch and a single.
The Purple and Gold left a runner on base in both the second and third innings, with FHS being retired in order in the bottom of the second.
With no outs in the home half of the third, Kaitlin White singled home Carli Reiber to tie the game at three. After a sac-bunt for the first out of the frame, the onslaught began. Eight consecutive batters reached base safely, leading to eight runs and an eight-run, 11-3 FHS lead.
The Lady Tornadoes were retired in order in the top of the fourth, but returned the favor to Fairfield in the bottom of the frame.
With two outs in the top of the fifth, Southern broke its cold spell as Cundiff scored on an error. However, Megan Gragg scored on an error in the bottom of the frame to extend the FHS lead back to eight runs.
With one out in the top of the sixth inning, aided by a trio of Lady Lion errors, Southern rallied for four runs. First, Kayla Boyer was single home by Roberts, who, along with Haley Musser, then scored on an error. Next, VanMeter doubled home Cundiff, but the Lady Tornadoes stranded two runners in scoring position.
Southern held its the Lady Lions off the board in the bottom of the sixth, but Fairfield retired SHS in order in the top of the seventh, sealing the 12-8 win.
“We jumped on them early, but then we had that one bad inning,” said SHS head coach Alan Crisp. “It was like a bad dream, we couldn’t get out of that inning. Once we got out of it, we played great ball the rest of the way.”
Both pitchers turned in complete game efforts with White earning the win for FHS and Sydney Cleland taking the loss for the Lady Tornadoes. White struck out seven batters, hit one and walked zero, while allowing eight runs, two earned, on eight hits. Cleland struck out one, walked two and surrendered 12 runs, nine earned, on 13 hits.
“We hit their pitching, and that’s a great pitcher,” Crisp said. “She’s a sophomore and we’re going to see her around the next two years. We hit her and I knew we could. These kids had a great mindset coming up on the bus today and I felt good coming into the game just because of the way they were today.”
VanMeter led the Purple and Gold at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and three runs batted in. Cundiff was 2-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs, Roberts went 2-for-3 with a triple, two runs scored and one RBI, while Katie Barton singled once in the setback. Musser, Whitesell and Boyer each scored one run, while Sydney Cleland earned an RBI.
White led the victors at the plate, going 4-for-4 with three runs batted in.
Fairfield was responsible for six of the game’s 10 errors. Southern left seven runners on base, while FHS stranded five.
This marks the final game in the Purple and Gold for Southern seniors Katie Barton, Sierra Cleland and Haley Musser.
“These three seniors have been great all year, I’ve never had one bit of trouble with them,” Crisp said. “They’ve been good leaders, they did what they had to do for us, they accepted their roles and I couldn’t be prouder.”
With only losing three seniors, the Lady Tornadoes will look to be right back in the mix for a district title next season.
“We have the core of this group back,” Crisp said. “We have big things to look forward to next year and into the future with these kids.”
The Lady Lions meet fourth-seeded Peebles in Saturday afternoon’s district final, at Minford.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.