With some early offense, some late defense and Olivia Suski, the Male softball team earned another trip to the Seventh Region championship game.
The Bulldogs held off late-charging Ballard for a 3-2 win Wednesday night in the Seventh Region semifinals at the University of Louisville’s Ulmer Stadium. Male (28-8), the three-time reigning region champ, will meet Eastern (21-17) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night in the region final at Ulmer. It’ll be a rematch of the 2013 Seventh final, won 9-1 by the Bulldogs.
To get that right Male, No. 7 in the state coaches poll, built a 3-0 lead then had to hold off a comeback by the sixth-ranked Bruins (25-9-2).
Male, which beat Ballard 3-0 on May 14 in the Best of the West tournament at Bowling Green, took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
Eighth-grader Morgan Zuege earned a one-out walk from Bruins starter Sarah Brill, then scored when junior catcher Dani Walls drove a double off the wall in left field. Suski followed with with a single to help her own cause and score Lily Ackerman, who was running for Walls.
“Sometimes you get in this environment and sometimes you can let the atmosphere sort of get to you. I was really, really, really proud of the way we came out in the first inning and put a couple runs on the board; we got some big hits,” Male coach Josh Bloomer said.
The Bulldogs boosted their lead to 3-0 in the fifth when Brill issued a bases-loaded walk to Walls.
Ballard, though, made its rally in the bottom of the sixth inning. That’s when Kristen Klimesh and Alexis Smith led off with back-to-back singles. They each moved up a base on a wild pitch, then scored when Male shortstop Haley Simon couldn’t handle Shelby Kelley’s ground ball up the middle. Kelley took second on the throw home before she was replaced by courtesy runner Madison Alexander. Alexander moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. But that’s when Male’s defense came up big.
Ballard’s next batter, Skyelar Houston, hit a pop up just behind first base. Male sophomore Alyssa Case stretched to make the catch in foul territory, then wheeled around and threw home, where Alexander was headed. Walls caught Case’s throw and threw to third, where Bayleigh Masterson tagged out a retreating Alexander, to complete the inning-ending double play.
“It definitely moved the momentum our way, because it was their way,” Suski said.
Suski retired Ballard in order in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the win.
“Male has a good team, but we were every bit as good as them. If you look at the scoreboard, we outhit them (5-4). We just didn’t come out attacking at the beginning,” said Bruins coach Alan Jones, whose team only had one hit in the first four innings. “We had chances in the fifth and sixth. (The) fifth inning, especially we had chances. One out, second and third, (but it) didn’t happen. You’ve just got to get a break, and that’s the biggest thing. I’m not taking anything from Male, because Male’s a great team, and their pitcher is awesome, but you’ve got to get the breaks to win. And we didn’t get the break that we needed. And that’s my fault. I probably shouldn’t have sent Madison to try to go home on the blooper over that girl’s head, I panicked a little bit.”
Jones, however, wasn’t second-guessing himself on not pitching senior Akilah Mouzon, a University of Illinois signee who shut down Eastern in the 28th District championship.
“The reason Akilah didn’t pitch, Akilah’s having elbow problems,” he said. “She has a great career ahead of her at Illinois and I’m not going to ruin her for a game. It’s not worth it.”