STERLING –áNewman softball coach JD Waldschmidt was ready to say something encouraging to cleanup hitter Jenna Johnson, but the senior catcher beat him to it.
“I walked up to JD and told him and John [Craft, Newman’s assistant], ‘I got this,’” Johnson said of the bases-loaded, no-out situation in the bottom of the seventh inning.
And she did. Johnson smacked the first pitch she saw from Byron pitcher Kya Logston past the drawn-in infield to give the Comets a 5-4 walk-off win in their Class 2A Newman Regional semifinal Tuesday evening.
“I had full confidence in myself, I knew my teammates had confidence in me, so I just knew I needed to go up there and do my best to have a good at-bat and help my team continue on,” Johnson said, after driving in Madison Craft with the winning run. “I was just going to jump on the first one she threw, because I knew her first pitch was going to be down the middle – she usually throws it right there – so I was just ready for that one and I hit it and got us that run.”
Newman (15-8) saw a 4-0 lead disappear over the final two innings, but they answered quickly in the seventh. Craft led off with a double down the left-field line, then Elle Koerner laid down a bunt for a single when Byron (6-15) failed to cover first base. With runners on the corners, the Tigers intentionally walked Hailey Frank to load the bases and set up a possible force out at home plate.
That led to Johnson’s proclamation to her coaches, and her subsequent heroics.
“Before I could even get anything out to Jenna after they walked Hailey, she says, ‘I got this,’ and sure enough, she did,” Waldschmidt said. “With us coming up in the seventh with the top of our order, anytime you can have Madison Craft lead off an inning, something good’s going to happen for you.”
Craft was the one who broke a scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning.
Byron then brought the infield in, and Koerner took advantage with a bloop single into short left field, driving in two more runs and chasing Tigers starter Trinity Keck after a subsequent walk to Frank.
Johnson then hit Logston’s first pitch into left for an RBI single to make it 4-0 Newman.
“We had two good innings, but that’s OK, because it was enough to survive and advance,” Waldschmidt said. “Our seniors got it done when they needed to, and it was fun to watch this close-knit group stay together, but we’ll have to play better Friday [in the championship game].”
Byron answered immediately, thanks to some Comet miscues. Koerner got two quick outs to start the top of the sixth, then three consecutive errors – two dropped fly balls and a dropped throw on a ground ball – plated two runs.
Unfazed, Koerner got a groundout to end it, but the lead was cut in half to 4-2.
“Elle’s usually pretty good about keeping her composure, staying upbeat and going after the next hitter,” Johnson said. “I had confidence in her, and everybody else did too.”
“Pound for pound, Elle’s probably one of the toughest kids you’ll ever meet,” Waldschmidt added. “She’s very hard on herself, but I have full confidence in her, and so does the team. She stayed composed and got us through it.”
After a double-play liner back to the pitcher – the fourth of the game between the two teams – took Newman out of a scoring chance in the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers tied it up in the top of the seventh on two-out RBI singles by Ally Abel and Jillian Wrede.
Still, the Comets didn’t seem to be hanging their heads, and it showed by their quick strike in the bottom of the inning.
“We all just had faith in each other, and we just knew that one after another, we were all going to hit,” Koerner said. “We just had faith that we could all do it, and just knowing that we wanted this so bad that we would do anything that we could just to get the win.”
Koerner (10-3) went the distance in the circle for Newman, allowing four runs – two earned – and seven hits, striking out four, walking one and hitting one.
“I was very nervous, but once I got through the first inning, it was easier just to relax and have faith in the team,” said Koerner, who threw 71 of her 111 pitches for strikes. “We’ve been playing this game for so long, and playing together, that we all trust each other so much.”
Other than the rough sixth inning, she got some help from her defense, as Maggie Oswalt and Jordan Morthland both made running catches in the first inning, Craft and Frank had double plays in the third and fourth, and Oswalt again came up big with her glove on a shoestring catch to end the top of the seventh to rob a potential go-ahead single by the Tigers.
“Maggie’s catch in the seventh was the play of the game, in my opinion,” Waldschmidt said. “Because if they score there, they go up one run, and it’s tougher for us in the bottom [of the inning]. Maggie’s struggled a little bit coming in and making those plays, and she made two of them today, so we’re super proud of Maggie, and kudos to her.”
Jillian Wrede and Emma Wrede each had two hits and a run scored for Byron, and Keck and Sydney Criddle also scored runs. Keck allowed four earned runs and five hits in 4 2/3 innings, striking out four, walking three and hitting a batter, while Logston took the loss in relief after giving up an earned run and five hits in 1 1/3 innings, with a pair of walks, including the intentional pass to Frank in the seventh.
“There’s no quit in these girls whatsoever,” Byron coach Brad Miller said. “We finally ended up finding some gaps [in the seventh], and they kicked it around a little bit [in the sixth] and we took advantage of it and finally scored some runs.
“These girls have battled back many times, just to fall a little bit short. But I’m real proud of the effort, this is a great group of kids, and we’re going to miss the seniors. Sorry the season’s over; even with just six wins, it was still a great season.”
2A Newman Regional semifinal
Newman 5, Byron 4
Star of the game: Jenna Johnson, Newman, 3-for-4, double, walk-off single, 2 RBIs
Key performers: Elle Koerner, Newman, 2-for-3, 2 RBIs, run, complete-game win, 4 R, 2 ER, 7 H, 4 SO, 1 BB, 1 HBP; Madison Craft, Newman, 2-for-3, double, RBI, scored winning run; Jillian Wrede, Byron 2-for-4, run, tying RBI single in 7th; Emma Wrede, Byron, 2-for-3, run; Ally Abel, Byron, RBI
Up next: 2A Newman Regional final, Newman vs. Fulton/Warren-Stockton winner, 4:30 p.m. Friday