AVON LAKE — Avon Lake coach Buzz Mullen told his players that tournament softball is as easy as three simple words — win … move … on.
Shoregals fans might have four words to describe Wednesday’s 5-4 Division I sectional final win over Midview — too close for comfort.
The Shoregals (24-1) rallied from a 4-2 deficit with two runs in the fifth and the game-winner coming on an Allison Theberge suicide squeeze bunt that scored Ali Balthaser with one out in the seventh inning.
“I was a little nervous coming up to bunt, but we’ve practiced that play a lot. I just knew I had to get it down,” Theberge, the Shoregals senior shortstop said. “We tried to come into this game level-headed. We realized how important it was to win, but we wanted to have the proper energy level and that helped us when we fell behind.”
Avon Lake took a 2-0 lead in the first inning after Annie Wennerberg and Alexis Thomas each tripled to the center-field fence and eventually came home to score. In the second inning, the Middies took advantage of two errors to score three runs on just one hit — a leadoff double by Lexie Hamker.
Midview (15-11) extended its lead to 4-2 in the sixth inning when Kate Thomas singled home Shelby Lantsberry.
“We fought hard and played well today,” Middies coach Mike Ives said. “We battled them pitch for pitch, but we just can’t make mistakes in critical situations. My hats off to Avon Lake. That’s a good team right there, they are ranked third in the state and they deserve that ranking.”
With the Shoregals’ dream season just seven outs from coming to a premature end, Thomas came up with one of the biggest hits of her career — a double that hugged the line and dropped just outside the reach of right fielder Morgan Hamker. Wennerberg scored on the hit and Thomas hustled home after a Midview throwing error to tie the game at 4.
The Shoregals played small ball to perfection, dropping down four sacrifice bunts in addition to a first-inning Paige Collins sacrifice fly. Mullen knows it’s those little things that make the difference in winning tournament softball.
“There was that one rough inning and I told the girls if you just keep playing the right way good things will happen,” he said. “I’ve been saving the suicide squeeze all season. I told Ali, ‘If you see it hit dirt, you’re gone, don’t wait.’”
Wennerberg improved her record to 20-1, holding the Middies to one earned run while scattering six hits. She got stronger as the game went on, retiring nine of the final 10 batters she faced.
“There was a lot of pressure in the seventh inning because we had to stop them and then we had to turn around and score,” Wennerberg said. “I just wanted to win the game so bad that I think it motivated me to pitch better at the end. We never got down because we had faith in each other that we could pull it out.”
The Shoregals will face North Ridgeville on May 21 at 5 p.m. in the district semifinals.
“We’ve got something we are going to work on in practice over the next few days,” Mullen said. “I’m not sure if it’s a good thing to have those days off at this point of the season or not. It’s good not to keep having back-to-back games, but you want to make you don’t come out flat when it’s time to play again.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.