RV softball comes up just short in intense regional championship battle
Like a Blue Moon or Halley’s Comet, there was a rare occurrence in Tuesday’s regional championship game between the Royal Valley and Rock Creek softball teams.
The Panthers, who have scored 244 runs this season (11 per game) and won 18 straight games going into the final in St. George, were held to one lone run in a 3-1 loss to the Mustangs. It was only the fifth time this season that RV was limited to single digits in scoring and the first time it happened in consecutive games.
“Every team has those off nights and I thought Holton was that off night,” RV coach Corey Katzer said. “I thought going in that it was probably, for our offense, a better match-up going into that second game.”
Championship action got off to a shaky start for Royal Valley as Rock Creek got a leadoff single in the top of the first inning. While the Panthers recorded two quick outs after that, Brynn Hammett continued her big day (she had a home run and four RBI in the second semifinal against SFT) in the next at-bat with an RBI single that gave the team a 1-0 lead.
Royal Valley looked poised to strike back in the second inning, as Caitlin Burns led off with a single and Masey Lafferty then came up with a one-out double down the right field line. With runners on second and third and one out, RV couldn’t quite capitalize as an innocuous fly out and groundout ended the inning.
A pitcher’s dual had broken out in what Katzer predicted could turn into an offensive shootout, but RV starter Kaileigh Gray-Milligan seemed to be settling into a rhythm for the Panthers in the pitcher’s circle, inducing two more quick groundouts in the top of the third,
Hammett continued to be a thorn in her side though. This time, she followed another teammate’s single with a two-run home run that gave Rock Creek a 3-0 lead.
“In my regard, Kaileigh made a great pitch. It was down and low to the knees,” Katzer said. “It’s usually the type of pitch that if you do hit it, it doesn’t go out of the ball park. It usually is a line-drive base hit, maybe a ball in the gap, but to hit that pitch to dead centerfield and out of the ballpark; that’s just a tremendous at-bat.”
Jaycee Worrell then led off with a single in the bottom of the third for RV and while she was recorded out two batters later, Sarah Beam traded places with her after reaching on a fielder’s choice.
Kaylie Parker and Burns then delivered with two outs, connecting for back-to-back singles, with Burns driving in the first run for Royal Valley to make it a 3-1 ball game.
The Mustangs were threatening again in the fifth following a leadoff double and single but a double play and groundout to second squashed that and kept the Panthers within two runs.
By that point, the rain that persisted at the start of the game had let up and all that was left was the bitter cold. For the Panthers, that cold spell seemed to carry over at the plate as RV went down in order in the fourth and fifth innings. While his players were making solid contact, Katzer credited Rock Creek for making plays when they needed to in the regional final.
“There’s a reason Rock Creek was in the championship game. They’re a very good softball team and you don’t become a really good softball team by not being able to play defense. They made a lot of really good plays,” Katzer said.
Royal Valley and Rock Creek both scattered a hit in the sixth, but it wasn’t until the seventh and final inning when the drama picked up again.
One hit batter was the only blemish for Gray-Milligan in the top half of the inning, otherwise she did her job to a tee for the Panthers. Then, in the team’s last chance at the plate, she started the Panthers off by reaching on an error to lead off the bottom of the seventh.
Worrell followed two batters later with a perfect bunt single right in front of the plate, but a fielder’s choice in the next at-bat got the lead runner and left the Panthers with just one out to try and complete their rally.
Sarah Beam stepped to the plate representing the winning run, but once again Royal Valley couldn’t quite convert as a she was retired to end the threat and secure a 3-1 victory and a spot in the 4A-DII state tournament for the Mustangs.
That loss doesn’t take away from what the Panthers achieved this spring, Katzer said, as RV finished 19-2 overall to set a new school record for wins in a season. The senior class also leaves behind a legacy as the winningest group in program history and set the foundation for future success as well as just creating a positive atmosphere around Royal Valley softball.
“They’re one of the most talented groups that I’ve ever coached. They’re one of the hardest working groups that I’ve ever coached and at the same time they’re one of the most fun groups that I’ve ever coached,” Katzer said.
P: RV- Gray-Milligan and M. Schuetz; RC- Campbell and Kinderknecht.
2B: RV- Lafferty; RC- Henry and Lee.
HR: RC- Hammett.