MASON — Sophomore Natalee Fyffe’s two-run homer in the second inning Saturday was the boost Kenton Ridge needed in a Division II regional softball final.
The blast over the left-field fence pulled the Cougars into a 2-2 tie with Jonathan Alder, a team that had beaten the Cougars twice this season. The Cougars’ dugout was alive with belief that the third meeting with the Pioneers could charm them right in the state tournament.
Fyffe’s first career homer certainly caused Alder coach Dave McGrew to wonder about the difficulty of beating a team for a third time.
“With an inexperienced team you do think about that,” McGrew said.
But behind senior starting pitcher Marlee Jacobs and some good fortune in the sixth inning, Alder pulled away for a 5-2 victory over the Cougars and will play in the state tournament in Akron next week for the fifth time in 11 seasons. In the semifinals, the Pioneers beat Shawnee for the third time.
“Playing them a third time, I’m shocked our girls have been able to put the blinders on to that and just go out and play,” McGrew said. “But they’ve grown up fast.”
KR had been scoring first in recent games, and coach Sarah Schalnat has confidence in Fyffe batting seventh in the lineup.
“I look for her to get a base hit somewhere; she’s been really consistent,” Schalnat said. “It was a great home run.”
KR (19-10) reached the regionals for the first time since 2018 and played in its first regional final since going to state in 2013.
The Cougars, who had six hits, lined into an inning-ending double play in the third inning, left the bases loaded in the fourth, left two on in the fifth and one on in the seventh.
“You can’t leave people on base, especially in scoring position,” Schalnat said. “You’ve got to be able to capitalize at that point and hit them in. You’re going to have games that are close in tournament, so when you have that opportunity, you have to score.”
Alder (25-1) won its 23rd straight game with timely hits after Fyffe’s homer. Jacobs’ line single to center put the Pioneers up 3-2 in the fifth. They added two unearned runs in the sixth on Evan Platfoot’s bases-loaded single with two out.
Platfoot’s hit was set up by an interference call that cost the Cougars an out. A throwing error on a force attempt at second base got past second baseman Jacee Hamilton. After Hamilton retrieved the ball, she ran down the baserunner who left second base, tried to get back, then turned for third and was caught and tagged out by Hamilton.
After a long conference between the four umpires, the ruling was that Hamilton interfered with the runner at second. The home-plate umpire then told Schalnat that by rule the runner could then not be called out in a rundown,
“I’m going to have to be looking that one up because it seems a little odd the way that it happened,” Schalnat said. “She was scrambling for the ball. It was incidental contact. It wasn’t an interference at that point. So I’m not so sure on that call.”