Aubrey Florence was tired of waiting, and the Saturday afternoon pitching clinic she put on at Tinora certainly testified.
After two consecutive days of postponements, the Ayersville senior hurler unleashed an uber-senior performance in a 2-1 nipping of the Rams that put a gem in the Lady Pilots’ D-IV sectional crown.
With a hearty Domersville wind keeping things interesting throughout, Florence rang up 14 punch-outs in front of error-free fielding while holding the Tinora bats to just four hits through seven sectional title frames.
It was an outing well worth the wait for the senior Pilot pitcher ...
“Every morning — Thursday morning, Friday morning, this morning — I kept waking up and telling myself I had to be intense, I need to work my hardest and trust the team I have behind me, because I have a great team behind me,” said the Ayersville ace, who made up for an early exit in the Pilots’ 11-9 regular season win over the Rams. “The batting lineup, the fielding ... I just have so much trust in all of them. And my dad (assistant coach Kevin Florence) has got me calling pitches. He’s phenomenal, I don’t know what I’d do without him.
“I was nervous,” she admitted. “But the first pitch calmed those nerves.”
And the last — which forced a corner-to-corner putout from junior Taylor Addington at third to senior first baselady Chloe Bowen with the tying run in scoring position — came complete with a passport to the Bryan District semifinals, where the Lady Pilots will face Edon in the late game of a Wednesday double-dip.
While Ayersville will attempt to determine the next phase of its tournament fate against the Lady Bombers on Wednesday, on Saturday it was the Pilots who were dropping the bombs.
“I think the last couple days with the weather that we’ve had, we were very focused on what we were doing and hitting at practice every night. The girls really focused and honed in on what we needed to do,” said Ayersville head coach Bill Zartman. “Finally we get to play three days later, and I think you get cooped up at home and you want to finally get on the field and play. Minus the weather conditions — they haven’t been great all year for anybody — the fact that we were able to get out here and play today was good for us.”
It could have just as easily been as kind to the Lady Rams had it not been for eight stranded runners, half of them in position to score a run and three of the four primed to tie the game with a one-run deficit.
“It was a heck of a game, but (Florence) struck out 14 of our hitters,” said Tinora skipper Garry Rodenberger. “You have 14 struck out and you lose a 2-1 ballgame ... it should have been 10-0 or something when you’re striking out 14, so the fact that we were able to get a run to keep us close shows you how well our defense is playing. But our offense didn’t do anything.
“I’ve got to give her credit. The last ballgame we lit her up and sent her to the bench, even though they came back and beat us,” he continued of Florence. “In this ballgame she stayed well in control. I thought we were a little mentally unprepared, we just weren’t mentally focused on what we needed to do.”
That focus was to turn runners into runs, which was something neither squad was able to do with ease against the other outside of a third inning that housed all the game’s scoring.
After leaving the bases packed in the first frame and going down in order in the second, Ayersville’s third inning proved to be a charm with the help of some Tinora jitters and a ball bouncing the right way — or the wrong, depending on which side of the river you hailed from.
Sophomore leadoff hitter Kelly Limbaugh sparked things off in the top of the third for the Pilots, rapping a single to center that turned into a scoring opportunity when a bad throw gave her a free pass to second and a Florence bunt subsequently pushed her to third.
Senior catcher Kourtney Lindeman then officially made it a 1-0 Ayersville lead, wailing on a 0-2 pitch that would have cleared the left-centerfield fence on a less gusty day. On Saturday, it was good enough for an RBI double that plated Limbaugh without friction.
“That’s what we’ve got to do, put the ball in play and put some pressure on the defense,” said Zartman. “If we do that, we’ve got some speed on the base paths to make some things happen. Plus we’ve got some big hitters that can back up our small-ball game, too, so a little mixture of both helps us out.”
It continued to help the Lady Pilots out from there as Bowen drew a walk — one of just two issued by Tinora sophomore pitcher Tristen Norden — to set up junior five-hitter Kryshel Dales with one away and runners on first and second. Dales stacked the bases with a first-pitch bunt that had a mind of its own before Lindeman took advantage of a passed ball to score the Pilots’ second and last run of the game.
The Ayersville lead was held at 2-1 by a heads-up play from Norden to neutralize Bowen’s scoring threat at third before shortstop Sierra Salinas ended the frame with a sharp 6-3 combo to senior Lexi Miles.
“They did what you would expect a team to do when you’re trying to generate some runs. You get a runner on and you want to move her over,” said Rodenberger. “There were some outstanding plays on both sides of the field, but we just mentally didn’t get it done.”
Tinora had a quick response in the home half of the third, though, with Salinas splitting the infield on a hard single up the gut to start things off. It was then time for the Rams to employ the short game as senior Aubrey Reineke bunted Salinas to third.
Reminiscent of how the Lady Pilots cracked the scoreboard in the top half, a senior in the three-spot sealed the deal in the bottom as Hannah Horn greased an RBI double over the bag at third to get Salinas across with just one out.
However, Florence dialed up the heat with two straight strikeouts through the thick of the Tinora order to stunt the Rams’ rally at a run.
“She was lights-out there,” said Zartman of Florence. “That’s what we expect out of seniors. They stepped up, they led us today, and she did a great job in the circle even through some adversity there. After they got one in, that could rattle somebody but she stayed with it all day long.”
Hitting power and run support may not have been on the pitchers’ sides on Saturday, but stellar fielding plays definitely were. While Ayersville got the benefit of Loryn Wright, Felicity Eichler and Hailey Johnson spotlessly keeping difficult fly balls on their radars, the Lady Rams got some infield influence from Quinn Horn at second base.
After robbing Johnson of a sure hit in the sixth on a tough line-out, the Tinora freshman played a perfect conduit between Libby Bumb and her sister Hannah at third, relaying a pinpoint cutoff throw in time to nab a speedy Limbaugh in a seventh-frame threat.
Limbaugh and Lindeman each turned in a single and double to lead the Ayersville bats, which only mustered five knocks off of Norden on the day. Along with the upcoming district game with Edon, the Lady Pilots, 3-3 in the GMC, is still on the hook to wrap up league play against Hicksville.
“This is what we’ve been chasing all year,” said Florence. “Obviously there are so much bigger goals out there, but this is our first step ... that’s all we really wanted. It’s nice to know that in my senior year we have our first goal reached, and hopefully we can reach more goals.”
Tinora now finds itself in the odd position of having its tournament hopes dashed still in the hunt for a conference crown, as the Rams still need to make up huge league games against Antwerp and Fairview while still tasked with wrapping up a halted battle at Wayne Trace.
“That’s all gonna come down to our seniors. The seniors are gonna have to be the ones to transfer it along to the other girls that we’re still in it for a league title ... or, you know, they can just fold up the tent and cruise through the next couple of days,” said Rodenberger. “I mean, you’ve got to take a look at it — they’ve played 13 games when we should be 20 games into the schedule. And when your season’s not rolling, you can’t create that kind of consistency you need to go into the tournament.
“It will all be dependent upon them,” he added. “The seniors will decide how we’re going to go about finishing the rest of the season out.”
Ayersville 002 000 0 — 2 5 0
Tinora 001 000 0 — 1 4 3
Records: Ayersville 8-8, Tinora 8-5.
Winning pitcher: Aubrey Florence (7 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 14 strikeouts, 5 walks).
Losing pitcher: Tristen Norden (7 innings, 2 runs, 5 hits, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks).
Leading hitters: (Ayersville) — Kelly Limbaugh single, double; Kourtney Lindeman single, double. (Tinora) — Hannah Horn single, double.