BENTON — Despite a busted lip that swelled to twice its normal size, Benton’s Gabby Kespelher pitched her team to a 7-3 win over Northwood on Monday night, ending the Lady Falcons’ 3-year reign atop District 1-4A.
The Lady Tigers capitalized on eight Northwood errors in winning their first league title under second-year coach Jaymee Junge, who was an assistant for two of the Lady Falcons’ last three crowns.
“It feels dang good to win it, but it is bittersweet,” Junge said during her team’s muted celebration. “I have the utmost respect for that bunch of girls and that coaching staff over there.”
Benton’s speed on the base paths and an aggressive baserunning approach put tons of pressure on the Northwood defense and allowed the Lady Tigers to remain unblemished in the district. Teams in 1-4A play each other just one time each, as opposed to the home-and-home series most district’s employ.
After Northwood pulled within 4-3 in its half of the sixth inning, Benton scored three runs in the bottom of the frame off three Lady Falcons’ errors, a single by Samantha Maranto and a triple by Kespelher to salt the game away.
“We haven’t played in two weeks, but you can’t use that as an excuse,” Northwood coach Greg Swearengin said. “We didn’t make routine plays. And if you can’t throw and catch, it makes it tough to beat anybody.”
The Lady Falcons (11-12, 4-1) jumped in front in the first inning when Kendall Smith singled and was moved over by Aubrey Moron. Jenna Blythe reached on a Benton error, allowing Smith to score. The Lady Tigers (17-9, 5-0) bounced back in the bottom of the frame when Brittany Craig reached on a three-base error and scored on a bunt single by Kespelher.
Benton added another run in the third when Chelsea Rangel reached on an error and scored on another Northwood mistake. Savannah Collo lined a single off Smith’s throat, although the senior pitcher was able to remain in the game.
Benton went through a scary moment in the fourth when Kespelher collided with another player in a run-down and ended up with a cratered lip for her trouble. The sophomore went to the ground in pain but was back on the mound a half-inning later.
“In the rundown, I went to cover first and when the girl slid back in, she cleated me in the face,” Kespelher said. “We were just playing our ‘A’ game – playing how we know how to play.”
Benton went ahead 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth when Taylor Thompson cracked a double to left center and moved over on a bunt single by Maranto. An errant throw on Alyssa Malone’s grounder allowed both runs to score.
The Lady Falcons picked up single runs in the fifth by Laney Patten and sixth by Kelsye Baker to make it 4-3. Northwood left Lindlee Hughes and Meghan Simms on base, however. Kespelher’s triple helped put it away in the sixth.
“Gabby did an outstanding job on the mound, an outstanding job in the box and an outstanding job on the bases today,” Junge said.
Both teams are headed to the 4A playoffs for the second consecutive season.