BATH TOWNSHIP — The Patrick Henry Lady Patriots had been doing a pretty bang-up job of taking potential runs away from Fairview on balls hit inside the fence on Thursday at Bath High School.
So when the Lady Apaches trailed by a run with the end of their postseason dreams lying just three outs away and the tying run perched on first, sophomore five-hitter and catcher Olivia Ricica refused to give the Patriots a chance to do so in the bottom of the seventh.
Rather than give Patrick Henry fuel for possibly another gut-wrenching, score-preventing double-play — which the ‘Pats previously burned on several occasions throughout some dicey D-III district championship drama — Ricica instead laid into every lace of a 1-1 pitch from Patrick Henry senior ace Becca Jones.
With senior Kendyl Kime standing on first, Ricica caught the jet stream with a two-run walk-off rocket that had more than enough steam to clear the left field fence and finalize a 5-4 victory that sewed up the Lady Apaches’ second consecutive Bath District title.
“I just wanted to get on base. That was really my goal because we really needed baserunners,” said Ricica. “My mindset was just get it on the field and not to a person, and try to hit it in the gap so Kendyl can run to third or maybe home possibly.”
Kime did make it home, followed by the sophomore clubber whose walk-off wallop threw a little Twilight Zone twist into what has now been a fiery two-year district title series between the pair of D-III quarrelers.
It had just been one year prior on the same diamond with the same district hardware up for grabs when a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth earned Fairview a storybook win over the Patriots, a district crown and a regional ticket, all with a final score of ...
“I am as ecstatic for my kids as I can possibly be, but heartbroken for theirs because it’s an unreal way (to win a district title), especially two years in a row,” said Fairview mentor Staci Renollet, whose No.6 ranked Lady Apaches will now face today’s Lexington District winner between Bucyrus and Galion on Wednesday at 2 p.m. in game one of a Region 10 semifinal twinbill at Findlay High School. “We didn’t go into extra innings, but to end with this type of score in really a very similar type of game of a back-and-forth, both teams down, both teams have some momentum and make some big plays to shut it down.
“I can’t be more proud of my kids for just never giving up and always believing that we could come back and win when things weren’t going our way,” she added. “But Patrick Henry played a great game and didn’t deserve to lose this game, either.”
On one hand, it could be said Fairview deserved the win for scattering 15 hits and affording the crafty Jones just one strikeout, not to mention striking the hardest and final blow in a game where both teams’ sticks were being swung with wicked intentions.
But on the other, Patrick Henry’s relentless ability to make the Apaches pay for even the slightest hesitation on the basepaths in a spotless fielding effort was making a strong case for the Lady Patriots, who had not lost a game since mid-April.
“It’s tough ... I mean, we probably played the best game of the season, turning double-plays, making the right plays,” said longtime PH head coach Mike Meyer. “It’s one pitch ... one pitch.
“Becca pitched well,” he said of his senior slinger. “There are certain times you get that one pitch and somebody hits it out. She put all the blame on herself, and it’s not. You’ve got to make every play of the game.”
That is something the Patriots obviously had their sights set on doing with a regional destiny in mind, completely crushing any scoring momentum the Fairview bats could generate in four threatening at-bats.
After a Natalie Nelson single plated Erin Diem in the top of the first, PH protected its 1-0 lead in the home half by escaping a based loaded situation that ultimately came up fruitless for the Apaches. But the second inning wasn’t nearly as kind to the Patriots, as Fairview stole a 2-1 edge when senior three-hitter Kamryn Boland ripped a two-run single with the bases loaded to score sophomore Emerald Rittenhouse-Starbuck and junior Sami Kime.
And then things really got interesting, to say the least.
While the Patrick Henry bats got busy with a run in the third, fourth and sixth frames, the fielding put on a display of defensive awareness worth the all the weight of a district crown.
The bottom of the third saw what could have been a dangerous Sami Kime single with runners on first and second instead become a defensive highlight when Ricica and Kiersten Cline were systematically tagged out in the same play to end the inning. While Ricica was tagged out in a brutal collision with PH senior catcher Kaity Johnson, Cline was caught by Nelson in a stellar play at short.
In the fifth inning, the Lady Patriots successfully defended a 3-2 lead with a lot of help from a fly to Diem in center, which she promptly turned into two outs with a perfect throw to second that got there before Kendyl Kime could get back. Kime had reached by taking one for the team before a Ricica single moved her into scoring position with nobody out.
After Patrick Henry bumped their lead to 4-2 via a huge RBI double from freshman Kayla Kruse in the top of the sixth, the Apaches answered by once more stacking the bases for another Boland rip to center with one out that had every intention of putting them back on top. But after quick senior nine-hitter Riley Collins scurried home to clip the lead to one, the Patriots caught Kinsey Dietrich between second and third while Anna Ankney was tagged out trying to score before the play and the inning came to a simultaneous end.
Patrick Henry’s heads-up fielding with the Diem-to-Nelson-to-Johnson connection had once more turned promise to dust for the Apaches.
“They’re aggressive, and we knew that,” said Meyer of the Apaches. “I was sort of shocked she didn’t bunt sometimes, but that’s the way Coach Renollet is. She does a nice job, and I think they played for the long ball.
“Give my girls credit, they weaseled out of those little jams there,” he added. “Those were huge plays that kept us in the game. It’s just unfortunate somebody had to lose. In a game like this, you win you advance and if you lose you go home.”
The Lady Apaches did not make the trip to Lima to return empty-handed, though, and a gutsy catch by Boland in foul territory off of her first base position highlighted a strong defensive stoppage in the top of the seventh.
That carried over to the home half, as Kendyl Kime was plunked for the second time of the game to lead off what was looking like Fairview’s last gasp. Was Renollet telling her sophomore five-hitter to swing for the fences?
“Nope, not at all,” the Fairview frontlady replied. “I mean, she definitely has the power and the potential. But we just talked between innings that everybody’s role, everybody’s job is to get on base. Kendyl got on and did that. Having Olivia move her around was kind of our mindset of trying to tie the score and then worry from there where we are. She just came up with a huge, unbelievable clutch hit that, for a sophomore ... what can you say?”
Logan Smith earned the win for Fairview in the circle, going the distance while allowing eight hits, fanning four and walking one. Sami Kime turned in a perfect 3-for-3 day at the dish with three base hits while Dietrich and Collins added a pair to join Ricica and Boland as leading hitters.
“It would have been nice to maybe win a little bit more comfortably for everybody’s heart rate or whatever, but I think this does say a lot about this season and this team and all those times maybe we could have given up,” said Renollet.
Hannah Meyer cranked two singles and a double for the Patriots, who Mike Meyer has just one make-up date to coach with before making good on his announcement earlier in the season to turn the program’s reigns over and step away from the coaching ranks.
“Give my kids a lot of credit. It’s nothing I did, I just guided the boat,” he said. “The oared like heck and got me around, you know. They’re great kids, and good luck to Fairview.”
Patrick Henry 101 101 0 — 4 8 0
Fairview 020 001 2 — 5 15 2
Records: Fairview 21-1, Patrick Henry 16-5.
Winning pitcher: Logan Smith (7 innings, 4 runs, 8 hits, 4 strikeouts, 1 walk).
Losing pitcher: Becca Jones (6 innings, 5 runs, 15 hits, 1 strikeout, 1 walk).
Leading hitters: (Patrick Henry) — Hannah Meyer 2 singles, double; Becca Jones 2 singles; Kayla Kruse double. (Fairview) — Kinsey Dietrich 2 singles; Kamryn Boland 2 singles, 3 RBIs; Olivia Ricica 2 singles, home run; Sami Kime 3 singles; Riley Collins 2 singles.