By Jason Hoekema
“Whoever makes the fewest mistakes will win that ballgame.”
Those were the last words in an interview with softball coach Rex Sawyer on Tuesday, September 3 when the Lady Bears topped Gainesville 13-3. He was right.
The Lady Bear defense had a few “little things” go wrong for them while facing the formidable opponent, the Dora Lady Falcons.
Julia Henry opened the contest with a strikeout on a full count facing Dora’s leadoff batter, Riley Collins. After that a drive into right field allowed a standup triple for Mary Fehr. Third in Dora’s order was McKenna Miller, who hit into left field for an RBI single.
Henry got things back under control with her second, one-two-three, strikeout. Then the defensive mistakes came.
Cassidy Hambelton managed to reach first on an error by Ava third baseman, Keeley Akers. Unfortunately, Hambelton had already batted-in Dora’s second run.
Henry again took to the circle meaning business, her third of nine strikeouts in the books.
The Lady Falcons struck early, but the Lady Bears were still in the game.
On a full count, Lexie Gastineau knocked one to shallow left field for a single, Olivia Gastineau followed with her own hit to the same area for a single. Olivia was caught stealing at second, but Lexie had made it to scoring position at third.
However, the bottom of the first inning was over with Henry and Reagan Koop hitting the ball but failing to reach first safely.
Henry took control again in the top of the second with two called strikeouts, but the third out came with a bullet from catcher Miquia Heinlein to second base, picking off Dora’s only baserunner.
The Lady Bears failed to capitalize on the momentum swing and were putout at first or whiffed during their time at bat. Akers was the only Lady Bear to make a hit in the second inning, a sliding double from a ball hit to deep right field.
The Lady Falcons kept at the grindstone, picking up three more runs in the third to break away from Ava, 5-0. Starting at the top of their order, Collins was walked on the full count. A double to the far left of the field by Fehr earned her the RBI as Collins booked it around third to home plate.
Miller earned another RBI, bringing in Dora’s fourth run despite no reaching first on the 6-3 play from the Ava defense. Hambelton, Dora’s fifth in the order, hit one to shallow right field, but what appeared to be a lack of communication between players led to the ball dropping on to the grass for a single with two outs.
“I really think we lost the ballgame early,” said coach Sawyer. “There was a rundown situation that we didn’t execute. There were a couple of fly balls where we didn’t do the right thing. We had a chance to win it, but we lost the ballgame earlier when we let them have some extra runs. We committed some mental mistakes early and that’s what lost the ball game. There are two or three runs they don’t have on the board if we execute those things.”
A big RBI triple by Dora’s Vanessa Woolbright was what the Lady Falcons needed to bring in that fifth run.
Devin Rowe flied out to second for the first out in the bottom of the third, but a grounder and a stolen base from Lexie Gastineau put her in scoring position. Olivia Gastineau was not far behind, reaching first after taking a hit.
Henry flied-out to Dora Pitcher, Riley Collins, but Koop was right behind her with a deep ball to right field for a two-RBI double to put Ava on the board.
Koop was stranded though, after a deep fly ball to center field put Heinlein away as out number three.
Going into the fourth inning the Lady Bears appeared to be shaking off some of the early-game jitters, but those early runs from the Lady Falcons would be the mistakes that came back to haunt Ava.
Akers scored in the bottom of the fourth with one away. Makayla Miller took a hit and first base. An RBI-single from Devin Rowe brought Akers in and pushed Miller into scoring position at second. Unfortunately, Lexie and Olivia Gastineau were both put away to close the inning, stranding two on the bases.
The Lady Bears put Dora’s Miller away with the play to first and were able to pick off Sarah Fehr while she attempted a steal at second. Hambelton reached and advanced to second with a steal. She would have stayed there had the deep hit to right-center field been caught, but instead the Lady Bears allowed Hambelton to score and Woolbright a sliding double with two outs.
The Lady Bears were able to put the next batter away, but Dora stretched forward by maintaining a 6-3 lead. Macee Cutbirth earned a triple in the bottom of the sixth and would make home plate thanks to designated player, Makayla Miller.
The inning came to a close after Miller failed to tag up at first. A challenge by one of the Dora coaches led to her becoming the third and final out in the sixth inning.
With Dora leading 7-4, the Bears needed to wake up on the defense and crack bats on offense in the seventh. Both feats were accomplished, but those early mistakes led to those early runs and Ava wasn’t able to catch up.
Henry put away two in the top of the seventh and the defense picked off Hambelton on her way to third. With a whiff, Henry closed the top of the seventh and the Lady Bears went to bat.
The seventh inning was, by far, the better of the game for Ava as the Lady Bears started off with leadoff batter Lexie Gastineau and nearly batted around the order.
Lexie batted for a single on the full count against a tiring Dora pitcher. Olivia didn’t reach but pulled several pitches out of circle, further tiring Dora’s pitcher.
Henry made her third plate appearance and delivered an RBI-double to close the gap to 7-5. With her in scoring position at second and only one out, the hope was still alive for the Lady Bears.
Koop reached first with a hit to right field but was cut off on her way to second as Heinlein reached first for an RBI-single. Henry’s run had brought the Lady Bears to the brink of knotting the game. Courtesy runner Allyson Roberts was put in for Heinlein at first and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
“We focused up a little bit,” said Sawyer. “Their pitcher was getting tired, and we went at it and was one shy.”
Cutbirth and Akers both received walks, loading the bases and putting all the pressure on one batter. An unfair situation given the mistakes the team had made early on.
Makayla Miler struck out, stranding three ducks on the pond and ending the game with the Lady Falcons ahead, 7-6.
The Lady Bears go on to a long break where coach Sawyer told his team that they would work on the “little things.” Baserunning and angles were a couple of the tasks to improve on as he spoke with the varsity team after the game.
Ava traveled to Salem on the 10th for their first SCA Conference matchup. The Lady Tigers were 1-1 going into the matchup, as was Ava. The Lady Bears were riding a two-win streak from years past when former softball teams put Salem away, 9-8 in 2017 and 3-1, last year.
Unfortunately, the Lady Bears’ win streak against Salem was crushed Tuesday afternoon with the Lady Tigers leading, 16-1.
This afternoon, the Lady Bears host Hillcrest at home. First pitch at 4:30 P.M.
Olivia Gastineau (10) makes contact with the ball during her first plate appearance in a game against Dora High School on Thursday, September 5, 2019, in Ava, Missouri. Gastineau sent the ball into left field for a base hit. (Jason Hoekema/Douglas County Herald)