PICKERINGTON — Even in defeat the hallmark of what has allowed the Teays Valley softball program to sustain a high-level of success shined through on Saturday morning in a Division I Central District final.
The Vikings entered their final at-bat trailing 10-4, but rallied for four runs and fell a couple of feet short of hitting a game-tying home run in a 10-8 loss to top-ranked Mount Vernon on the grounds of Pickerington Central High School.
“We never give up and we fight to the last out,” Teays Valley senior third baseman Hailey Struckman said. “Even though we fell short there, we showed what we’re made of as a team. We play with a lot of energy, we support each other and we’re going to stick together, because we’re a family.”
The loss brought to an end a special four-year ride for the senior class of Struckman, Macey Moore, Anna Gill and Allison Stewart, who will all go on to play collegiate softball.
Teays Valley has posted a record of 92-19 during the last four seasons, including finishing as a state runner-up, a return trip to the state tournament last season, two district championships, two district runner-up showings and three Mid-State League Buckeye Division championships.
“What stands out the most about our senior class is how they worked with our younger players, supporting them and helping them become better softball players,” Teays Valley coach Derrick Hastler said. “Our seniors are smart softball players, they’re talented and they set the mindset that we were going to compete hard on every pitch until the last out.”
Mount Vernon, which has defeated Teays Valley in two of the last three seasons in a district final, scored what turned out to be two huge insurance runs in the sixth on a two-run single to right off the bat of Megan Pentz.
Allison Stewart opened the seventh by reaching on an error and Paige Okuley joined her on the base pads thanks to an infield single.
Macee Marcum bounced back to retire the next two hitters on a pair of groundouts and had an 0-2 count against Gracie Jo Thompson. The Teays Valley shortstop kept the inning going when she reached on a two-run single that Pentz made a diving stop on at second, but had no play at any base.
Struckman then jumped on the first pitch she saw and launched a two-run homer to right center to make it a 10-8 game.
“My dad always talks to me about advancing runners and driving them in as the leadoff hitter, so I go to the plate just looking for base hits,” Struckman said. “I squared that pitch up pretty well and I knew it was gone immediately.”
Following a single to left by Gill, Cassie Feyh jumped on a 1-0 pitch and hit a deep drive that was caught in front of the center field fence by Carlena Fiorilli to end the game.
“We had a nice approach at the plate of not trying to hit a six-run homer,” Hastler said. “We put the ball in play and we came up with some big hits. Cassie hit her pitch well there at the end, we just needed it to go another couple of feet.”
Teays Valley (19-6) struck first in its opening at-bat on an infield single by Stewart to score Struckman.
Mount Vernon (22-0) tied the game in its half of the first. Hope Straight reached on an error and advanced to second on the play. She scored one out later on a double to right field off the bat of Marcum.
The Vikings took what turned out to be their final lead of the day in the second. Struckman hit a two-out swinging bunt in front of the plate that Straight tried to tag Shaina Rowe on, but missed the tag according to the home plate umpire.
Mount Vernon seized the lead for good with a five-run second. The Yellow Jackets loaded the bases with one out as the Vikings were unable to get an out on a couple of hard hit balls on the infield. Straight was then hit by a pitch to force in Maddy Burdette.
“We couldn’t make a play on a few balls hit in the infield and that kinda opened the door for Mount Vernon with how they can hit, especially with the top of their lineup,” Hastler said. “We made a few errors in the game and that led to a couple of other opportunities for them that they scored on.”
RBI singles by Pentz and Annie Neipling sandwiched around a two-run single from Marcum gave the Yellow Jackets a 6-2 lead.
The Vikings escaped further damage when they threw out Neipling attempting to take second on the play and then threw home to cut down Marcum trying to score and end the inning.
Teays Valley cut its deficit in half during a two-run fourth, highlighted by a solo homer over the right field fence by Shaina Rowe and a two-out single to right by Feyh to score Thompson.
Mount Vernon responded in its half of the frame with two runs of its own on a two-run homer over the center field fence off the bat of Straight.
The top three hitters in the Yellow Jackets’ lineup — Straight, Pentz and Marcum — combined for six of the team’s 10 hits, drove in nine runs and scored five times.
Struckman went 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored to pace the Vikings, Stewart was 2-for-4 with an RBI and Rowe went 2-for-3 with an RBI and scored twice.
Mount Vernon advances to a regional semifinal on Wednesday against Gahanna at Ohio State.