By DAVE HANNEMAN
Carey seems to have Bluffton’s number this year.
And when it comes to softball, that number is “8.”
Carey beat Bluffton 8-2 in the second game of the 2019 prep softball season.
Bluffton wouldn’t lose another game until the two teams met up once again, this time in Wednesday’s OHSAA tournament. The rematch turned out to be a re-run, with Carey putting up another eight-spot in an 8-3 win over the Pirates in the first of two Division IV district semifinals played on Anderson Field at the Marathon Diamonds.
“Their only loss was us early on so we knew this was going to be a tough game,” said Carey coach Teresa Gillig. “They’re 20-1 for a reason.”
New Riegel had McComb’s number as well in the second semifinal, but not until the later innings. That’s when the Blue Jackets banged out nine of their 13 hits and scored seven runs to lock down a 9-5 win over the Panthers.
New Riegel, 22-3 and ranked No. 2 in Ohio’s latest Division IV state softball poll, will face Carey (19-5) at 6 p.m. Friday for the district championship. The winner will return to the Marathon Diamonds at 5 p.m. on Tuesday to face the Bryan District champion in the Division IV regional semifinals.
Following that loss to Carey in the first few days of the season, Bluffton rattled off 19 straight wins, clinched a first-ever Northwest Conference softball crown, and climbed to No. 5 in the state rankings. But a horrendous start to the game undermined all the momentum the Pirates had generated heading into it.
Three of Carey’s first four batters singled, and only one of the hits left the infield. Bluffton shortstop Avery Rumer did well to get to two of the grounders deep in the hole, but could not make a force out on either of them.
One run scored on Kenzie Row’s single to center, two scored on a throwing error on Lexie Clinger’s grounder, and another on a fielders choice to the right side of the diamond. Clinger eventually scooted home on a passed ball, boosting Carey into a 5-0 lead before Bluffton even got to the plate.
“Our goal was to try to score right away, get a little bit of a cushion for confidence, and the girls did exactly what they needed to do,” Gillig said.
“I think that first inning helped us a little bit. I could not have asked for a better game against (Bluffton) today.”
“We kept battling after getting down 5-0, but we couldn’t get a timely hit or (Carey) would make a timely play,” said Bluffton coach Tony Rumer.
“Carey has a really nice program. They are rock solid.”
Bluffton would get single runs back in the first, second and third innings. But Carey starter Bridget Mullholand appeared to get stronger as the game progressed. The junior left-hander allowed just one hit over the final 42/3 innings and retired 14 of the 17 batters she faced over that span.
“One thing that is a little bit of a game changer is you don’t see too many left-handed pitchers in high school softball,” Rumer said.
“It does make a difference because the ball comes out of the hand differently and comes to the plate differently.
“No excuses, though. Actually I thought we hit the ball good tonight. We just could not get timely hits when we needed them.”
McComb coach Troy Steinbrook could have said the same thing, and pretty much did after the Panthers left the bases loaded in the first and fourth innings and stranded two runners in the fifth.
“If the balls goes here or there, we could maybe have put more pressure on them,” Steinbrook said. “New Riegel made the plays when they had to, some great (defensive) plays.”
The first inning was emblematic of how the game played out.
McComb’s first three hitters — Malorie Schroeder, Shelby Steinbrook and Shaye Hemminger — led off the game with solid base hits. But the Panthers got only one run out of the rally, that scoring on Maddie Buck’s grounder to short.
In the bottom half of the first, New Riegel’s Aubrey Bouillon lined a base hit up the middle and Kristen Coleman reached on an infield single. Bouillon and Coleman advanced on stolen bases and wild pitches, and both scored on ground-outs to the right side.
Long story short, McComb got one run out of three base hits; New Riegel got two out of two.
“I was hoping if we could get a little bit of a lead our girls could settle into the game, but we weren’t able to capitalize,” Steinbrook said.
“We’ve not had a lot of opportunity to play in this type of venue on a continual bases, not like the New Riegels and the Careys. They’ve always been good regional teams and today they showed it. They rose to the occasion.”
Steinbrook felt New Riegel’s winning tradition and tournament history may have factored in the Blue Jackets’ ability to not only withstand, but also surpass every challenge McComb threw at them.
After tying the game 2-2 on Hemminger’s RBI double in the third inning, McComb used Shelby Steinbrook’s lead off single, back-to-back New Riegel errors and Maddy Amburgey’s two-run double to forge a 5-2 lead in the top of the fifth inning.
New Riegel answered right back in the bottom of the inning, tying the game once again on Coleman’s single, doubles by Bouillon and Kaitlyn Kirian and an error.
New Riegel then took charge in the sixth. Sydney Hohman led off the inning with a double, Bria Dailey followed with a base hit and Bouillon, who was 3-for-4 and scored three runs, broke the deadlock with an RBI single. Kirian, who drove in five runs overall, plated two with another base hit. Jenna Gable’s RBI single capped the rally that put New Riegel up 9-5.
“That’s kind of the way we’ve been all year,” said New Riegel coach Jamie Lininger, who achieved his 300th career win this season and upped his career record to 303-128 with Wednesday’s win.
“When we’ve gotten down — which hasn’t been often; maybe three, four times all year — we seem to find a way to come back and win.
“We were able to string some things together and make some things happen.”
CAREY 8, BLUFFTON 3
Carey 502 000 1 — 8 10 2
Bluffton 111 000 0 — 3 5 2
WP — Mullholand. LP — Schaadt (18-2). top hitters: (Car) Nikederkohr 2-1B; Wagner 1B, RBI; Mullholand 2-1B; Lonsway 1B, 2B; Row 1B, RBI; Snyder 1B, RBI. (Blu) Rumer 2-1B; Busch 3B; Koenig 1B, RBI; Minnig 2B.
records: Carey 19-5, Bluffton 20-2.
NEW RIEGEL 9, MCCOMB 5
McComb 101 030 0 — 5 8 3
New Riegel 200 034 x — 9 13 2
WP — Lininger. LP — Steinbrook. top hitters: (McC) M. Schroeder 2-1B; Steinbrook 2-1B; Hemminger 1B, 2B, RBI; Davidson 2B; Amburgey 2B, 2 RBI. (NR) Bouillon 2-1B, 2B, RBI; Coleman 2-1B; Kirian 1B, 2B, 5 RBI; Reinhart 2B; Gable 1B, RBI; S. Hohman 1B, 2B.
records: McComb 14-7, New Riegel 22-3.