Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
It was a game of inches, and for 41 outs it looked as if neither team would give one.
The Jefferson City and Fatima softball teams held each other scoreless through 61/2 innings Tuesday, with the Lady Comets getting within one out of forcing extra innings at 63 Diamonds.
But a pitch that was just a few inches too high eluded the catcher’s glove and allowed the Lady Jays’ Ashton Glass to dash home for a 1-0 win.
“An unfortunate break right there at the end to end it, but we cannot hang our heads on anything that just happened right here,” Fatima coach Dana Scheppers said. “They’re a good ballclub. Hand it to them, and they’re undefeated for a reason.”
Glass led off the bottom of the seventh with a blooped infield hit. She moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Gabi McGinty and to third on a groundout by Megan Newton.
After failing to get a hit the first two times through the lineup, it was the 7-8-9 hitters who generated the lone run.
“Quality at-bats,” Lady Jays coach Zac Miller said. “Gabi dropped down a bunt, and then Megan goes with a two-strike approach and is able to fist a ball to the right side and move her to third. That puts us in a position if there is a passed ball to win the ballgame.”
Jefferson City starter Alyssa Schulte threw a four-hitter to get the win. She struck out eight batters and did not allow a walk.
“We’re going to ride behind her,” Miller said. “Tonight she threw great.”
Two of the Lady Comets’ hits — a single and a double — came from shortstop Sammey Bunch. She was stranded in scoring position both times she reached base.
“She’s a stud over there,” Miller said of Bunch, who also had a steal. “… She put together two good at-bats, and got hits on us, so being able to execute in front of her and behind her was key to the ball game.”
Schulte didn’t allow a hit until outfielder Katelyn Plassmeyer knocked a single to left in the third. Five of Schulte’s strikeouts came in the first three innings alone.
The Lady Jays’ biggest jam came in the sixth when Bunch doubled to right field and was sacrificed to third by Makayla Buscher, but Schulte forced a popout to end the inning.
Erin Eichholz began the seventh inning with a single to left-center, but Fatima could not take advantage.
The Lady Jays had their own string of missed opportunities. After failing to score on three hits in the first two innings, Jefferson City had runners on first and second with one out in the third following a pair of walks. Fatima pitcher Macy Berhorst induced a ground ball to second base, which Morgan Berhorst fielded before tagging the runner and getting the force at first to end the inning.
“After that double play, I thought the momentum was going our way,” Scheppers said. “I thought things would happen. What (Macy Berhorst) has been doing well this season is pitching out of jams, and that’s a positive that we have to take out of this game.”
The Lady Jays once again had two runners on with one out in the fifth when McGinty walked and Katy Tambke reached first on a sacrifice bunt that refused to go foul, rolling the length of the third-base line. Emily Williams knocked a two-out shot to right-center, but Eichholz tracked it down to end the frame.
After allowing four baserunners and giving up three hits in the first three innings, Macy Berhorst found her groove, giving up just three hits and a walk the rest of the way.
“I thought she was getting frustrated with the strike zone” early, Scheppers said, “and she finally settled in. You’ve got to deal with what they’re calling.”
Glass’ hit in the seventh ended a string of five straight retired batters. Once she reached third base, Miller made sure Glass was on her toes.
“She does a very good job of getting jumps every pitch, and I just reminded her, ‘Hey, make sure we get a good jump,’” he said. “You never know.”
A pitch later, the Lady Jays had improved to 5-0.
Both teams reached the Final Four last year, with Fatima winning Class 2, and Jefferson City taking third in Class 4.
Scheppers said the playoff-like atmosphere should pay off for Fatima (4-2) down the line.
“This is only going to make us stronger in the end when it really matters,” she said. “We’re playing a 4A school, and we’re 2A level. We’re not going to see this until after districts, probably.”
Miller said his team knew to expect a battle from the Lady Comets.
“We know that every time Fatima comes to town or we go there it’s going to be a tooth-and-nail ballgame,” Miller said. “And it didn’t disappoint tonight, again. A very well-played ballgame, and I’m glad we had the last at-bat.”