Perhaps the biggest victory in Maryville College softball history twice was one strike away on Friday, but just as it looked like the Scots might achieve that glory, the bottom dropped out.
Maryville led by one run with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning when Trine University’s Lexi Clark hit a two-run single just passed the outstretched glove of second baseman Taylor Campbell to give her team a 4-3 win in the opening game of the NCAA Regional at Depauw University in Greencastle, Ind.
The Scots (28-10) trailed early and led twice late, including when the home half of the seventh inning began. Maryville pitcher Katlyn Smith had been on a fine line by walking eight batters to that point, but two more walks and Clark’s single finally did her in.
“That was one of the hardest fought battles we’ve had all year,” Maryville coach Leah Kelley said via phone following the game. “My team played the way they should. When it came down to it things didn’t go our way. That’s tough in a regional game, but sometimes you play your heart out and do everything right but you don’t get to control everything in the game. That’s pretty tough.”
Maryville drops into the loser’s bracket and will play an elimination game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against the loser of Depauw and Saint Vincent College. If the Scots win that one, they’ll play again immediately.
The Scots will hope to get a steadier performance out of Smith, who dominated USA South Athletic Conference opponents en route to being named Pitcher of the Year. Smith had a low ERA and strong strikeout numbers, but every now and then she gave up too many walks.
Free passes played a role in all three innings in which Trine scored on Friday. In the sixth, she walked Clark with two outs and the bases loaded to allow the Thunder to tie the game, 2-2.
Smith, who threw 170 pitches and had nine strikeouts, got out of several other jams that were complicated by walks. It even seemed like she would escape the seventh inning when she had Claire Ryan down to her final strike in the at-bat that preceded Clark’s. Clark, too, had two strikes when she got the winning hit.
“Katlyn does that sometimes,” Kelley said. “When she gets in those jams one thing she does really well is trust her team. Our defense is so solid behind her that nobody really stresses out about it, but when it comes to the postseason you have to find a way to limit that.
“When she throws it she gets a lot of swings and misses. We’ve been telling her to just throw it. They’re usually not going to hit it. They made a good adjustment of holding their bats. They were swinging and missing and they just stopped swinging and they started getting on base.”
Maryville tied it 1-1 when pinch runner Ashleigh Geary scored on a wild pitch in the fourth inning. The Scots took the lead on Taylor Campbell’s solo home run in the fifth. They had the lead again at 3-2 after Reid Ballard’s sacrifice fly in the seventh.
It ended suddenly in the home half of the inning, leaving the Scots to pick up the pieces before they take the field again on Saturday.
“We’re not going to change anything we’re doing,” Kelley said. “We’re not going to do anything special. We’re going to leave everything out there. As long as they’re going to keep letting us play we’re going to keep playing to our standard.
“I’m very proud of the way my kids fought against one of the top teams in the nation. Today we looked like the better team, but in the end things just didn’t go our way. All we can do is play our hearts out.”