FAIRFIELD — Briahna Bush found the whole thing to be a rush. A championship rush.
The Cincinnati Christian School softball team took a break from the Division IV postseason Friday and squared off with visiting Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in a Miami Valley Conference Scarlet Division title showdown.
CHCA needed a win to get a piece of the Scarlet crown, but couldn’t hold a 4-0 lead as CCS rallied for a 5-4 triumph and the outright division championship.
“Man, I love the feeling,” said Bush, a sophomore who scored the winning run in the sixth inning and fashioned a five-hitter with 15 strikeouts in the circle. “This game was out of it, all over the place. The feeling out on the mound in that last inning, it was like my stomach was turned. I knew my team was behind me. They’ve got my back. We just had to get it done.”
Bush retired the last seven Eagles she faced and completed the contest with two strikeouts, finalizing the Cougars’ 20th consecutive victory.
Cincinnati Christian moved to 21-2 overall and 13-0 in the MVC. CHCA (13-5, 11-2) finished its season on a four-game losing streak.
“Honestly, there was a moment today where I thought, ‘Well, I guess a 19-game run has to end at some point,’ ” CCS coach Gary Rice said. “But it didn’t. The girls held their heads together and got back into it.”
The Cougars scored twice in the fifth inning and three times in the sixth against Eagles freshman Finley Payne. Cincinnati Christian hasn’t lost since March 28 (to Taylor) and hammered CHCA 16-0 on April 4 as Bush threw a perfect game.
CCS will take its third straight MVC crown and return to the tournament trail Tuesday, facing Felicity-Franklin in a 5 p.m. district semifinal at Milford.
“It’s good to have the MVC title again, but our mind is further down the road,” said Cougars senior shortstop Jenna Monk, who’s set to play her college ball at South Florida. “We’re going to keep pushing forward toward the end goal, which is state. We’re not going to quit working.”
Cincinnati Christian stranded at least one runner in every inning and 10 overall Friday, but found its scoring touch in its last two at-bats.
Kaitlyn Fritz delivered a two-run single in the fifth to close the gap to 4-2. Miranda Heid singled to start the CCS sixth, went to third on an error and scored on Merrick Heid’s sacrifice fly. Ashley Veldkamp, Bush and Monk followed with singles, with Monk driving in Veldkamp and Bush coming home on an error.
Monk began the game with a .661 batting average, 12 home runs and 59 RBIs. She got intentionally walked twice and hit by a pitch in her first three plate appearances.
“I fully expected them to walk me again in the sixth inning, but I’m so glad they didn’t,” Monk said. “My blood was pumping so hard. My adrenaline was really going.”
Bush said she never lost faith in her team, even when it was 4-0.
“I was thinking whatever happens, happens. God’s got it under control,” she said. “It was a little tough, but once we got things rolling and got in their heads, we were back at it. People make mistakes, but if we make mistakes and get down on ourselves, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
“We are not quitters at all,” Monk said. “We didn’t really expect it to be a cutthroat game that much because of the way they played last time, but practice must have worked for them. They came out to play today.”
Veldkamp contributed two singles and a double for the Cougars, who totaled eight hits against Payne. CHCA didn’t exactly help its own cause in the field, committing four errors.
“We have to get over the fifth/sixth inning kind of letdown,” Eagles coach Diane Barghini said. “That’s kind of when our pitcher needs the help and the defense has to step up. We need to be growing from this into next year and learning how to stay on your toes when your pitching needs you.”
Payne was 3-for-3 with a double, a triple and two RBIs for CHCA, and Lauren Myers also had an RBI. The Eagles clearly did a better job against Bush than they did in April.
“This time around, the bats had more experience,” Barghini said. “It helps to see a pitcher a second time. They’re a very good team, but we’ve had weeks and weeks to come up with a strategy to stay in the game with them.”
What was that strategy?
“It came down to teaching the batters,” she said. “They kept moving back thinking they would get around on her speed that way, but her pitches are also moving. So it was like, ‘No, you need to use a lighter bat, choke up, stay toward the middle of the box and hit it before her ball moves.’ I think that helped some of them get the bat on the ball.”
Bush, who issued no walks and allowed just one earned run, said she hit a career-high 61 miles per hour on the radar gun Friday. She credited CHCA for battling her at the plate.
“They looked like a different team today,” Rice said of the Eagles. “We’ve had a couple days in a row where we’ve had a slow start. We’re going to have to change that by next week.”
CCS defeated Fayetteville 4-1 in sectional play Thursday. Blowouts have been the norm for the Cougars this year, and Rice said this week’s competitive games should help his team in the long run.
“We kind of felt like yesterday and today were the perfect lineup for raising the level of what we’re going to have to do to win next week,” Rice said.
Cin. Christian 000-023-x—5-8-3
WP — Briahna Bush (21-2); LP — Finley Payne (13-5). Records: CHCA 13-5, 11-2 MVC Scarlet; CC 21-2, 13-0 MVC Scarlet
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