By Robert Tomlinson
MASON — A historic season for Three Rivers High School’s softball team came to an end Saturday in Mason, losing to the Parma Western Panthers in a nail-biting 3-2 decision in the Wildcats’ first-ever Division 2 Regional Finals appearance.
The Wildcats, who had only mustered two walks and no hits through six innings against Parma’s star senior pitcher Hailey Whisman, were down 3-0 going into the top of the seventh when they attempted to rally back against the right-hander. Ava Forman led off with a double to left field that got past Panthers left fielder Alivia Hall to give the Wildcats their first hit of the game.
After that, two catches by Parma center fielder Nicole Wilson, including a diving play on a shallow fly ball off the bat of Lanie Glass right after Forman’s double, put the Wildcats down to their final out. London Hoffmaster then hit a single right through the legs of second baseman Palmer Fortress, sending pinch runner Payge Ellifritz to third. The next batter, Kendall Penny, popped up an 0-1 pitch from Whisman into shallow right field, but the ball went under the glove of Parma right fielder Kenadee Golas, turning the pop fly into a two-run triple for Penny, putting the game-tying run 60 feet away.
Peyton Ware, the next hitter, battled to bring the count to 2-2 with a couple of foul balls thrown in. However, the seventh pitch of the at-bat was a called strike three, ending the Wildcats’ season and starting the celebration for Parma.
“Unfortunately, it was too late,” Three Rivers head coach Kendra Kutz said after the game. “But, you know, I couldn’t be more proud of how they stood up and fought hard. It took a few hits here and there to get us moving and it started to come alive, and we just fell short.”
All three of Parma’s runs came in the bottom of the second inning against Ware, who started on the mound for Three Rivers. After striking out the first two hitters of the inning, Ware, who had a shaky first inning but ultimately stranded two Panther runners on a close groundout to second, had trouble finding the strike zone and walked the next two hitters. That led to a two-run double by shortstop Shaunicy Hendricks to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead and end her day in the circle.
Jennaya Decker, who had gone the distance in the Wildcats’ regional semifinal win over Lake Odessa Lakewood just hours earlier, came in to relieve Ware. After a wild pitch sent Hendricks to third, Wilson brought her in with a single to left field to put the Panthers up 3-0. Decker would provide stability in the circle, giving up just one other hit to a solid Parma offense in her 4.1 innings of relief, striking out five, including the next batter after the RBI single to end the second inning.
However, outside of the seventh-inning rally, the Wildcats didn’t have many answers for Whisman, who struck out 10 Wildcats and walked two in a complete game victory, with all three hits given up coming in the top of the seventh.
“Their pitcher did what she needed to do, and we kept chasing her high pitching, her riseball. It didn’t work out in our favor, but it worked out in hers,” Kutz said.
Overall, Kutz said her team was resilient throughout adversity the entire season, which helped them get to where they got this season, the school’s first-ever appearance in the softball equivalent of the Sweet Sixteen.
“This was a great group of kids. We faced a whole lot of adversity this season as a team, and I feel that no matter what was thrown at us, we were able to fight through that,” Kutz said. “These girls have fought hard, and this whole second half of the season has been fun. It’s been fun to coach them. It’s fun to be with these girls and watch them grow, and watch them fail and how they respond to failure has been so rewarding. Even when they fail, they still try to rise above it.”
Parma head coach Tonya Bassett, who with the victory won her first regional title as coach with the Panthers, said she was proud of her team for the win, giving kudos to Three Rivers along the way.
“I knew they were going to be competitive, and I knew they had strong pitching. I heard they were tough at the plate, and they proved all that,” Bassett said. “It was good competition; I like playing teams we haven’t seen before. It was nice to battle somebody and have a good contest for the day.”
Parma moves on to face Vicksburg in the state quarterfinals at Kalamazoo College Tuesday. Three Rivers ends the season with a record of 26-16.
To get to the regional finals, Three Rivers defeated Lake Odessa Lakewood 6-4 in the early regional semifinal game. After Decker gave up a solo home run to Lakewood’s Audrey Hillard in the top of the first, Three Rivers responded with three runs in the bottom of the first. The first run came on a wild play where Lakewood’s catcher was called for interference on a rundown when Forman tried to slide into home. That was followed up by a 2-run single a couple batters later by Penny.
Three Rivers would get two more in the third with RBI singles by Hoffmaster and Ware, and cap off the scoring in the fourth with an RBI double by Decker. Lakewood would get two runs in the top of the fourth on two fielding errors, one by Decker and another by Forman, and then make things interesting in the seventh with a solo home run by Lily Federau followed by a single by Maryssa Goble, but Decker got a ground out off the bat of Hillard to end the game.
Decker was also helped out on defense during the game, as center fielder Gabby Charvat made two diving plays during the game to rob Lakewood of extra-base hits.
In the regional semi, Three Rivers was led at the plate by Forman, who went 4-for-4 with two runs scored. Lanie Glass, Decker, Hoffmaster, Penny, Ware, Dani Glass and Allie McGlothlen each had a hit each. In the circle, Decker went the distance, giving up four runs (two earned) on five hits, striking out 11 Vikings hitters and walking two.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.