Warriors fall to unbeaten Keystone in 12 innings
By Tom Williams
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning of the Division II state championship game, sophomore Peyton Alazaus delivered the most clutch hit in the history of West Branch softball. Alazaus’ single landed in shallow left field, scoring Kylie Coffelt and Delaney Rito to force extra innings against undefeated LaGrange Keystone.
It wasn’t quite enough. The Warriors and Wildcats played five bonus innings before Marlie McNulty’s two-out triple scored Val Broschk for Keystone’s 3-2 victory Saturday at Firestone Stadium.
The championship was the Wildcats’ fourth. The Warriors were making their first appearance at state.
Sis Woods, the Warriors’ 32-season head coach, was proud of how well her unheralded team did against a team where most of the starters one day will play in college.
“Most are signed to go somewhere,” Woods said. “We played with them — it was a heckuva state championship game.”
The Warriors were down to their last out when Alazaus connected for their first hit of the game.
“I just didn’t want the season to end,” Alazaus said of overcoming the pressure.
Alazaus also had the Warriors’ only other hit. In the 12th inning, she doubled to left-center field with one out. A groundout advanced her to third base before a groundout ended the game.
Sydney Campbell (29-0) contained the Warriors, mostly with groundball outs (22 were recorded at first base). She struck out three, walked two and hit one batter.
The Warriors debated whether Campbell was more like Champion aces Allison Smith or Sophie Howell.
Coffelt and Alazaus leaned more toward Smith, the Golden Flashes’ hard thrower. But Kelsey Byers noticed a similarity to Howell.
“She did throw a little bit harder, but the spin on the ball, the movement that [Campbell] had was more like Sophie,” Byers said.
The Warriors, winners of the Northeastern Buckeye Conference, finished 27-4, with three losses coming against undefeated state champions (Keystone once and Champion twice).
“I could not be more proud of each and every one of these girls,” Woods said. “They never stopped fighting. These girls believed in each other.
“It could have easily been a 2-0 game.”
The game was scoreless until the sixth inning. Broschk led off with a single and one out later, Madi Herrington drew a walk off Coffelt. Like she did against Poland in the district semifinal game on May 17, Woods brought in Byers as a reliever.
Autumn Acord was intentionally walked to load the bases and Madi Nunez fouled out to Coffelt, now at first base, Then Brooke Piazza hit a liner up the middle that glanced off Byers’ outstrehced arm for a 2-0 lead.
“I think it hit my glove,” Byers said, adding that she was excited to pitch. “It was a little bit nerve-wracking going in but I tried to stay within myself and not let everything get to me.”
Errors by the Wildcats ignited the Warriors’ rally in the seventh inning. Shortstop Herrington bobbled Grace Heath’s hard-smash to lead off the inning. Heath was safe at second when second baseman Ali Pyles dropped a force attempt that put Coffelt on.
Byers and Rito hit fielder’s choices to set up Alazaus’ big hit.
In the fourth inning, the Warriors stranded Jordan Anderson at third base Four innings later, the same happened Hannah Sprague.
“We had our opportunities,” Woods said. “We had some nice shots right at them early.
“Both teams played very well.”