A bitter end awaited the Woodland softball team Monday with the Lady Wildcats needing to complete a four-run rally to extend their season by at least another game.
With the tying run just a few feet away on third base and Jessie Michaels up at the plate, Woodland fans could sense their team, which had one out, was close to pulling off the improbable.
A heads-up play by Sequoyah third baseman Katie Collis, however, deflated that enthusiasm as Collis fielded a Michaels grounder just a few steps in front of her bag and opted to throw back to her base -- now occupied by shortstop Missy Perkowski -- for a bang-bang call.
Lady Wildcats pinch runner Katie Harris appeared to slide back to third in time, but the infield umpire called the base runner out. Lady Chiefs pitcher Valerie Box then induced a pop-up for the game's final out, which ended Woodland's season as Sequoyah held on for a 4-3 victory in the Region 7-AAAA tournament.
"I told 'em after the game [that] they played hard, and that's all we can ask [of them]. We competed today. [It is a] disappointing ending, but I'm proud of 'em," Lady Wildcats coach Colman Roberts said afterward. "I wish we could have went further, but I told the seniors I was proud to be a part of their lives the past four years. ... They're hurt, but they'll be successful in life."
Following the close call at third base, Roberts acknowledged that he asked the umpire to solicit help in making the call but said the umpire felt he got it right.
"That was a questionable call at third. I thought we were safe," said the Woodland coach. "It's just something we can't second guess. I thought [our girls] got after it today, and that was the big thing going in. I told 'em to stay after 'em, and I thought they did."
Besides, he added, the game came down to multiple plays.
Prior to the Lady Wildcats' matchup with the Lady Chiefs, Roberts spoke of the importance of getting ahead early, an opportunity that seemed to be there for the taking at the onset of the game. Woodland loaded the bases but could not push a single run across home plate as Sequoyah pitcher Emily Kidd relieved starter Liz Prance to escape danger.
"The first inning would have been big," Roberts said. "We could have jumped on them right there -- who knows?"
The Wildcats had another chance to break through for an early lead in the bottom of the third with Woodland's top of the order again setting the table. Leadoff hitter Taylor Braselton was hit by a pitch, and Bailey Roberts bunted to reach base, placing runners on first and second base and bringing about the Lady Chiefs' second pitching change.
Box came on and made a fine defensive play as she snagged a Bucy liner, which led to a double play at second base. Lacey Fritz's single to shallow center field put runners in scoring position after Fritz went to second on the throw to third base, but Box recorded a pop-out to end the inning.
Just as the Lady Chiefs managed to wiggle out of a tough situation, Woodland also pulled that feat off a few times to keep the game scoreless, including the top of the third when Lady Wildcats pitcher Bucy exited unharmed after Sequoyah placed runners on the corners with one out.
"We actually got out of a lot of jams today so defensively we played well," Colman Roberts said. "They had some big timely hits."
Woodland could not keep the Lady Chiefs off the scoreboard forever as Sequoyah loaded the bases following an out in the fifth. Olivia Black's two-run double to left produced a 2-0 lead.
In the sixth, the Lady Chiefs extended their lead to 4-0 with a two-run single from Perkowski.
The Lady Wildcats had the bases juiced in the bottom half of the inning as Kat Moreno and Michaels each singled to right followed by Cheyanne Burt, who was hit by a pitch to load them up. Sydney Flowers hit a ball that looked to be dropping in for a hit, but Sequoyah center fielder Hannah Kidd swooped in for a diving catch. Flowers' sacrifice fly plated Woodland's first run. Bridgett Hampton's single got past the pitcher to load the bags once again, and Braselton hit another sacrifice fly to center to trim the lead to 4-2.
Down to their final three outs in the seventh, Bucy roped a single to left and Fritz reached base on an error before Moreno's groundout moved Bucy and Harris over to third and second, respectively. Michaels then came up to the plate, and Bucy darted home to score the Lady Wildcats' third run on a wild pitch.
The comeback was not to be, however, as Woodland's season ended in heartbreak.
Box nabbed the win for the Lady Chiefs, giving up two earned runs on seven hits, three walks and a hit batter. Bucy, who had a couple of strikeouts, pitched a complete game for the Lady Wildcats. She surrendered four earned runs on seven hits, two walks and two hit batters.
Leading hitters for Sequoyah were Kidd, 1 for 3, hit by pitch; Perkowski, 1 for 3, two RBIs, walk; Collis, 1 for 3; Black, 1 for 3, two RBIs, double, walk; Box, 1 for 3; and Sophia Andretta, 2 for 4.
Offensive contributors for Woodland were Braselton, 0-1, RBI, two walks, hit by pitch; Bailey Roberts, 2 for 4; Bucy, 1 for 3, hit by pitch; Fritz, 1 for 4; Moreno, 1 for 4; Michaels, 1 for 3; Flowers, 0-2, RBI, walk; and Hampton, 1 for 3.
The Lady Wildcats, who concluded the season with a 14-17 mark, lose five seniors from this year's team -- Emma Hicks and starters Bucy, Burt, Michaels and Moreno.
"We'll try to fix some things that we think will make them better," Colman Roberts said of Woodland's offseason preparations next spring. "A lot of 'em play summer ball, travel ball, Little League. It'll take a little while to get over [the loss], but they'll all battle back. Of course, we'll have some new kids. Hopefully, [we will] get faster and stronger. That's gonna be one of our big things [this offseason]."