Scales homers, but Lady Comets cannot hang on to 3-0 lead
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
DENVER — The Caston softball team was four outs away from their first sectional title in school history, but then their lead was history, and North Miami wound up
celebrating with a trophy on their home field on a dank, drizzly Denver late afternoon.
Aided by five Caston errors that led to five unearned runs, the Lady Warriors scored a run in the fifth inning and four more in the sixth to claim a 5-3 victory in the Class 1A, Sectional 52 final and improve to 18-9.
North Miami, who defeated No. 6 West Central and No. 4 Caston in consecutive games, will host either Fremont or Elkhart Christian in a regional on Tuesday. Fremont and Elkhart Christian will meet at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Sectional 51 final.
Isabel Scales hit a solo homer, and Maddi Smith and Annie Harsh each had RBIs for Caston, who finished 19-5.
Kinzie Mollenkopf took the loss despite allowing no earned runs in six innings. She permitted eight hits and two walks but struck out five.
Caston also left 10 on base, including the bases loaded in the second and fourth innings.
Caston led 3-0 after four innings and still led 3-1 with a runner on first and two outs in the top of the sixth. Madison Goulette, North Miami’s No. 9 batter, was up, and she hit a grounder to short, but she reached on a wild throw, and Victoria Masters, who was pinch-running for Jaden Hetzner, advanced to second.
Astella Fisher then pinch-ran for Goulette.
A Mollenkopf wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. Mollenkopf then walked Shyloe Hunt to load the bases.
Reese Hoover then hit a hard grounder into left field for a single that scored Masters and Fisher to tie the game. Hunt hustled from first to third, and when the throw to try and get Hunt was cut off, Hoover advanced to second.
Ellie Musselman then hit a fly ball to center field that lingered in the overcast, moist air. It was dropped for the third error of the inning. Hunt and Hoover, running on contact with two outs, scored to give North Miami their first lead at 5-3.
“That sums it all up right there,” Caston coach Jon Burks said. “That’s all of our losses – errors. That sums it up, bottom line. If we don’t have them errors … it is what it is. I hate errors, and I try to work against the errors, and we have the errors. And we can’t give people runs.
“Errors just open flood gates, and the flood gates opened, and they walked right on through.”
North Miami junior pitcher Lauren Duncan protected the lead from there. Hunt, a senior left fielder, made a sliding catch to rob Bailey Harness of a hit to lead off the Caston sixth.
Addison Zimpleman singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch and third on Annie Harsh’s sacrifice bunt, but Duncan retired Kinzie Mollenkopf on a fly to Emily Smith in center to end the threat.
Zimpleman relieved Mollenkopf in the circle to start the seventh and pitched a scoreless frame by striking out Goulette looking with two on to retire the side.
North Miami coach Mike Meeks elected to pitch to Scales to start the bottom of the seventh after intentionally walking her in her two previous plate appearances, and Duncan struck her out on a change-up.
It was just the fifth time Scales had struck out on the season, and it came after Duncan fell behind in the count 2-0.
Maddi Smith singled and took second on a wild pitch that bounced in front of catcher Addison Miller.
Macee Hinderlider poked a looping fly ball toward the left field line, and Hunt made another sliding catch on the slick grass for the second out.
Duncan then fanned Makena Middleton on a rise ball to end the game.
Meeks wanted to give his pitcher a chance to get Scales out with a two-run lead and nobody on base.
“Coming into the game, we knew that she had hit Lauren pretty well,” Meeks said of Scales. “She had, I think, two home runs, maybe three home runs off her coming in in her short career from her freshman to her sophomore year. So we just basically said that we weren’t going to let her beat us.
“And we had her in that first at-bat. I think it was (1-2). The rise ball just didn’t go where we wanted it to go, and she smoked it. She hit a mistake, let me just put it that way. But she’s a great hitter, not taking anything away from her. But we try to pick one girl every time in a game said, ‘This one’s not going to beat us,’ but Scales is just an amazing athlete and amazing hitter.”
Burks acknowledged that he once used the same strategy in the past that Meeks used in this game when he chose to walk Northfield’s Addi Baker four times in the 2021 sectional semifinals. Northfield won that game 7-4.
“It was kind of karma because we did the same thing last year to the Northfield girl,” Burks said. “So karma came back to bite us in the (rear) a little bit, didn’t it?”
Scales struck first in the second inning. She fell behind 0-2 and then took a pitch that was just low. She clobbered the next pitch over the wall in left-center for a homer.
Later in the inning, Maddi Smith reached on an error and Middleton and Harness were hit by pitches, but Duncan got Zimpleman to ground out to Hetzner at third to keep the deficit at 1-0.
With Harsh on third and one out in the third, Meeks chose to walk Scales, and Maddi Smith followed with an RBI bunt single, just beating the throw from Duncan. Scales went from first to third on the play, but Duncan recovered to strike out Hinderlider and Middleton to end the inning and keep the deficit at 2-0.
Duncan retired the first two batters in the fourth, but Zimpleman doubled to left-center, and Harsh ripped a liner to right-center for an RBI single to score Zimpleman. A Mollenkopf single moved Harsh to second.
Meeks then chose to walk Scales again and load the bases. Maddi Smith then grounded to Jerzi Trigg at second base to end the inning. Duncan had stranded three more runners.
“We tried, but it just didn’t work,” Burks said. “We put the ball in play, but unfortunately, they were at ‘em bombs that were right at ‘em, so there’s nothing you can do about it. We left a lot of runners on base, but like I said, if we don’t make the errors, it’s a different ballgame.”
North Miami stranded six runners themselves in the first four innings against Mollenkopf but broke through in the fifth. Hunt was on second with one out when Musselman grounded to short, but the throw was in the dirt for an error, and Hunt came in to score.
Mollenkopf recovered to strike out Ashley Sumpter-Music and get Duncan on a pop to short to keep the lead at 3-1.
North Miami 5, Caston 3
North Miami 000 014 0 – 5 9 1
Caston 011 100 0 – 3 8 5
WP – Lauren Duncan (7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 5 K)
LP – Kinzie Mollenkopf (6 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K)
2B – Annie Harsh (CAS), Addison Zimpleman (CAS), Reese Hoover (NM), Lauren Duncan (NM), Jaden Hetzner (NM)
HR – Isabel Scales (CAS)