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Rochester wins sectional title over Pioneer in extra innings

Hunter scores winning run on passed ball; next up: regional at Delphi Tuesday


Sports Editor, RTC

The Rochester softball team defeated Pioneer 7-6 in nine innings in the Class 2A, Sectional 37 final at Fansler Field Thursday. The sectional title is Rochester’s first since 2012. They will travel to Delphi for the regional Tuesday. Kneeling with trophy – Keyton Doran. Back, from left – Aubrey Miller, Gabby Medina, Makhia Harding, Mylee Heinzmann, Aubrey Wilson, Mia Howdeshell, Brailyn Hunter, Lillee Conley , Audrey Widman, Darah Strasser, Bria Rensberger, Jadyn Field.

Brailyn Hunter scored from third on a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Rochester softball team to a 7-6 win in nine innings over No. 11 Pioneer in the Class 2A, Sectional 37 final at Fansler Field Thursday.

The sectional title is the fifth in Rochester history and their first since 2012.

A lineup with five freshman and two sophomore starters that might have seemed jejune in April has become a force in May. The Lady Zs have won 11 straight games and will carry a 16-9 record into Tuesday’s regional at Delphi.

Game time is to be determined.

“I’m so proud of how we reacted in the game today,” Rochester coach Jim Coleman said. “There were several times where we made a mistake. If that would have happened in the first half of the season, we would have had girls crying and very emotional and would not have bounced back.”

Freshman shortstop Aubrey Wilson also said the team seemed to respond well to adversity.

“Our last two games that we played, we definitely played together as a team and picked each other up after everything,” Wilson said. “That’s how we won in extra innings, just like that.”

The team developed a belief in each other during their winning streak, according to freshman third baseman Gabby Medina.

“Attitudes definitely changed, and we all started having trust in each other,” Medina said.

Junior center fielder Darah Strasser said “we all just blend so well.”

“It feels absolutely amazing,” Strasser said. “It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I’m super happy with our team. We really rallied together, and it took everybody.”

The Lady Oracles won Sectional 38 with a 5-0 win over Carroll (Flora) on Wednesday.

Pioneer finished 19-8. 

Hunter, a freshman who made a full-on horizontal diving catch to rob Pioneer’s Lois Layer for the second out in the top of the ninth, began the bottom of the ninth with a single to right-center field off Layer.

When the ball was booted for an error, she advanced to second.

Jadyn Field then hit a sharp spinning grounder towards the second baseman that was bobbled for another error. Hunter advanced to third. 

It was the last of eight Pioneer errors.

“Kudos to them,” Pioneer coach Gabby Thomas said. “They’ve got some runners. But we just didn’t play good defense behind our pitcher. Lois pitched a game where if we play quality defense behind her, we win that ballgame.”

With Bria Rensberger batting, Layer threw a wild pitch that traveled only a short distance away from catcher Casey Webb. Hunter stayed at third, but Field advanced to second.

With the count 2-2, Layer threw a pitch low and away that ticked off the catcher’s glove and went to the backstop.

Hunter took off and beat the throw to the plate with Layer covering.

Hunter, Rensberger and on-deck hitter Mylee Heinzmann jubilantly jumped up and down while the heartbroken Lady Panthers walked off the field.

Keyton Doran, Rochester’s lone senior gave a consoling hug to Pioneer senior Emma Sells near the third baseline. Sells started her high school career at Rochester before later transferring to Pioneer.

Hunter said winning the sectional felt “pretty good.”

“I was pretty nervous, but I was trying to just keep calm and not worry about it,” Hunter said. “Try to just make it a regular game and not so big.”

Rensberger said she was rendered speechless after pitching nine innings under both sectional pressure and a hot sun.

“It feels really good,” Rensberger said. “I don’t even have any words. This feeling’s amazing. My defense was phenomenal tonight. Those were some good hitters off Pioneer, but we all powered through and made it happen.”

Rochester then posed for team photos with Doran holding the trophy in the front row and the rest of the players standing behind her.

Rochester had leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2, but Pioneer caught up with two runs in the fourth.

With Sells on second and Kylie Attinger at first and Layer batting, Attinger inched off the bag at first, drawing a throw.

Sells took off for third, and the throw to try and get Sells was wild for an error, allowing Sells to score. Attinger ended up at third on the play and then scored on Layer’s sacrifice fly.

Layer got Mia Howdeshell to pop up with two on to end the bottom of the fifth.

Adeline Cripe led off Pioneer’s half of the sixth with a single, and she went to second on a wild pitch.

Kamryn Newby fouled to third on a bunt attempt, and Kennell popped to second.

That brought up Webb, who spent her formative years in Rochester before later moving to Winamac and then Pioneer. Thomas called timeout to talk to Webb.

Thomas later said she used some humor.

“I told her a joke,” Thomas said. “To get her out of her head. Too often as girls or as athletes, we get in our heads, and we’re thinking mentally about that last at-bat or that last play, and I just gave her a joke to try to get her out of her head, and it worked.”

How far Webb hit the ball was no joke. She smashed a long two-run homer to left-center field to give Pioneer a 6-4 lead.

It was the first homer Rensberger had allowed in 106 high school innings.

“I had to let it go,” Rensberger said. “I had to shake it off and not dwell on it because if I dwelled on it, I was going to fall apart.”

Rochester responded in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Strasser, who had three extra-base hits all season and who had struck out in her previous two at-bats, cranked a triple to right-center field.

“I was honestly just thinking get the ball down because I trust my speed,” Strasser said. “And I hit that bomb, and I was like, ‘Let’s go.’”

Coleman called Strasser’s triple “a big turning point for us.”

“It was huge,” Coleman said. “We tried bunting with her. Her swings, she was not making contacting, and she drilled one there to right-center, and that really got us going. … Credit her. She hung in there even though she struggled the previous two at-bats.”

Wilson then topped a grounder to the left side, and when the throw to first was wild for an error, Strasser scored to make it 6-5.

Wilson then stole second, and when the throw to try and get her from the catcher sailed into center field and then past the center fielder, Wilson scored all the way from second to tie it 6-6.

Pioneer had runners on second and third with one out in the seventh on Layer’s single and a double from her cousin Cripe.

Newby then hit a foul ball near the chain link fence along the third baseline. Medina and Field, the catcher, also chased it. Medina caught it.

With Field having chased the pop-up, home plate was momentarily unoccupied. Layer tagged up and took about three steps down the line, but Howdeshell sped in from first base to cover home plate. And Wilson had snuck in behind Layer at third.

Medina threw back to Wilson, who tagged Layer as she dove back to the base. She was called out for a double play as the Lady Zs stormed off the field.

“Nobody was at home,” Thomas said. “On a play that’s in front of them on a pop fly, I got to give them that green light. … They have that advantage to go and get that run. She hesitated and just got caught off.”

Medina had been the designated player at times this season. Medina said she was grateful to be back at third base.

“I just knew we had to stay down and fight through it,” Medina said. “Because I knew we had it with us.”

Rensberger led off the bottom of the seventh with an infield hit, but Layer struck out Heinzmann, retired Howdeshell on a sacrifice bunt and struck out Medina swinging.

It was time for extra innings.

Webb reached on a dropped pop-up with one out in the eighth. Courtesy runner Hollie Zellers went to second on a wild pitch. Rensberger struck out Ava Ott looking, but Zellers then advanced to third on a passed ball.

But Rensberger got Sells on a grounder to Medina at third to retire the side.

A sharp Layer retired Strasser on a grounder to first, Wilson on just her seventh strikeout of the season and Aubrey Miller on a foul pop to Kennell at shortstop in the bottom of the eighth for her first 1-2-3 inning of the game.

Rensberger answered with just her second 1-2-3 inning. First, she got Attinger on a fly to left.

Layer then hit a hard, sinking liner to left. Hunter reached out and made a diving, backhanded catch, just keeping it off the turf.

Hunter momentarily doubled over, saying she hurt her stomach on the play.

“I was just not thinking about it, and I just went out for it,” Hunter said.

Ava Beasy then flew out to Strasser.

Her stomach issues over, Hunter was ready to hit.

After taking various photos with family and friends, the players climbed aboard a school bus for a police escort around town.

“Since I was little, that’s something looking up to all the older girls when you are young, that’s always the dream,” Howdeshell said of the bus ride. “I just love the experience with my team. It’s a special team for sure.”

Rochester 7, Pioneer 6 (9 innings)

Pioneer 011 022 000 – 6 9 8

Rochester 211 002 001 – 7 10 4

WP – Bria Rensberger (9 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 K)

LP – Lois Layer (8 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 9 K)

2B – Addison Kennell (PIO), Ava Ott (PIO), Adeline Cripe (PIO)

3B – Darah Strasser (RHS)

HR – Casey Webb (PIO)

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