CENTERVILLE — Abby Beckham didn’t slow down to savor the moment. She was a little too hyped up for that.
The Lakota East High School junior second baseman launched a three-run homer in the top of the 10th inning Wednesday in a Division I regional softball semifinal against Mason.
As it turned out, the Thunderhawks needed every one of those runs.
“I didn’t jog. I just started sprinting. The adrenaline just started pumping,” Beckham said after East outlasted the Comets 5-4 on Centerville’s diamond. “You just go. And at the end when everybody starts hitting you, it’s like wow, just wow.”
It’s been a wildly successful and yet trying season for East, which won the Greater Miami Conference championship and has been playing for weeks without head coach Steve Castner, who’s recovering from an undisclosed medical issue.
The Thunderhawks (28-1) are one win away from the second state berth in program history. They’ll return to Centerville on Saturday at 1 p.m. to face Lakota West (22-7) for the regional title.
“As soon as I hit that ball, I was like, ‘That’s for Steve,’ ” Beckham said. “Everything’s for Steve at this point. We’ve got to keep pushing through every game and keep fighting no matter what.”
Sydney Larson went the distance in the circle for East, scattering 11 hits and striking out seven, and Kylee West contributed a two-run single in the fourth inning.
Larson stood firm in the bottom of the 10th after the Comets scored twice. They opened the frame with a single by Sydney Carter, a double by Ali Weekley and a two-run single by Grace Rieger.
A fly out, a fielder’s choice and a popup to Beckham ended Mason’s season as the Comets finished 23-4.
“I know my brother’s happy right now,” said Dan Castner, who’s sharing East coaching duties with Jess Howard in Steve Castner’s absence. “I had great thoughts all the way through that game because we weren’t ever going to give up. Mason never gave up either. Everybody had the confidence to keep fighting.”
“This is a special group of kids on and off the field,” Howard said. “They’re there for each other all the time, and it just translates onto the field. We have the utmost confidence in all of them.”
Lakota West represented Southwest Ohio at the state tournament last year, losing to Massillon Perry in the championship game. The Firebirds split with East during the 2019 regular season, handing the Thunderhawks their lone defeat April 29.
“We’re familiar with West just like we’re familiar with everybody else in the GMC, so we’re really not going to approach it any differently,” Howard said. “They got us one time, so I think we’ve learned a little bit from that.
“You’re not meant to win or meant to lose … you work to win or lose. It’s just a mentality. They know they’ve got to work hard no matter who it is. The regional final just happens to be West.”
The 10th inning started with a walk and a double play for East. Cassidy Hudson then singled, Larson reached base on an error and Beckham followed by rocketing a Katie DeBord pitch over the center-field fence.
“Honestly, I was just thinking base hit,” Beckham said. “As soon as Sydney got on in front of me, I was just thinking I had to do something. I was like, ‘This is it. This is the time to step up. This is the time to do it.’
“It was really scary, but then I took a step back and said, ‘Hey, you’ve just got to take a deep breath and go with it.’ It was all for the team.”
She said the home-run pitch was a little outside, “but I kind of just went with it. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone. It was such a feeling of joy that it was indescribable. I could not catch my breath. I was just so happy.”
Beckham got mobbed by her teammates when she reached home plate.
“They hit me so hard that I fell to the ground,” she said. “But it was worth it. It was good, all good.”
Beckham was the only Thunderhawk with two hits against DeBord, who pitched a seven-hitter. Carsyn Snead had three hits for Mason, while Weekley collected two hits and two RBIs, and Holland Tolliver added two hits.
The Comets lost to East twice (2-1 and 10-4) during the GMC campaign.
“They were hungry today, and it’s hard to beat a team three times,” Howard said of Mason. “They’re not one-dimensional. They’re three-, four-, five-dimensional, so you’ve always got to be ready for something.”
Mason coach Liann Muff said she was proud of her squad and the fight it showed, especially after falling behind 5-2.
“We all felt like we could still win that game,” Muff said. “That’s the only way you get those hits in that situation. You’ve got to believe you can get that win.”
The Comets have five seniors. All five — Weekley (Dayton), DeBord (John Carroll), Rieger (Miami Hamilton), Tolliver (Slippery Rock) and Paige Loveless (Indiana Wesleyan) — will play college ball.
“This is the first time our whole senior class has committed to playing in college,” said Muff, describing Weekley as the best shortstop in Mason history. “They’re a special group of five. They really get what our program concept is. They play for each other and support each other. They’re really good people.”
Three GMC teams — East, West and Mason — made it to the regional, with Harrison carrying the Southwest Ohio Conference banner. The Wildcats lost to West 2-0 in Wednesday’s second semifinal.
“I think it’s interesting that you’ve got three GMC teams in the final four of this district,” Howard said. “We all have a mutual respect for each other. We all avoided each other as long as we could.”
She said there’s a chance Steve Castner might be able to make the trip to Akron for the state tournament if East advances. The Thunderhawks’ only state appearance came in 2010.
Lakota East 000-200-000-3—5-7-1
WP — Sydney Larson (20-1); LP — Katie DeBord (23-4); HR — L: Abby Beckham. Records: L 28-1, M 23-4
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