Long Reach softball, clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the fifth, utilized its speed to provide some much-needed insurance runs.
Jules Dadurka and Taylor Slonac delivered back-to-back singles, promptly stealing second and third. Madison Wise and Sierra Sims brought them in for a pair of runs that proved invaluable as the fourth-seeded Lighting held off No. 5 Atholton, 6-5, in their Class 3A East Region II quarterfinal.
The Lightning advance to the regional semifinals against top-seeded Reservoir.
“We just needed a hit,” Sims said. “Nothing’s too serious, just needed to put the ball in play and that’s what we did.”
Long Reach struck first with runs in the first and second innings. Sims delivered an RBI groundout in the first, while Amelia Bross scored on a passed ball in the second.
However, Atholton responded with three runs in the third. Adara Baldini’s single and Morgan Ryan’s double to deep left-center field set the Raiders up with runners on second and third with one out. Micah Howell and Madeline Skaggs ripped RBI singles, giving the Raiders their first lead of the game, 3-2.
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“What we’ve been working on all season came together,” Atholton coach Allyson O’Neill said. “They didn’t give up when they got down, they stayed in it and fought harder. They came back and put people in play, were aggressive at the plate and just never gave up on themselves. That’s all we’ve been working on all season.”
Long Reach quickly regrouped after falling behind. The Lightning bats found more success in the bottom of the fourth. Haiden Saffer singled home Holly Ryan. Saffer later scored on a passed ball.
“I felt like they were getting a little frustrated with themselves, so we came in and had a conversation,” Long Reach coach Heather Clausen said. “Them coming back in gave them the confidence and that needed boost to get out there and really show them what they have.”
Relief pitcher Kaitlynne Streets struck out five of the nine Raider hitters she faced in the fourth and fifth innings. Mixing her pitch speeds and locations, she disrupted the timing of Atholton’s hitters. Feeding off Streets’ energy, the Lightning bats continued to thrive in the fifth, extending the lead to 6-3 on the Wise and Sims RBIs.
“I was just focused on winning and when I’m focused on winning, I don’t think about anything else,” Streets said. “My curveball was actually working really well. That’s what they were missing on most of the time, so I kept throwing it.”
Long Reach’s insurance runs came in handy as Atholton responded with a pair of runs in the sixth. Kyra Holtje launched an RBI triple to deep center and later scored on a sacrifice fly from Ryan. However, Holtje’s hit was the Raiders’ final hit of the game as Streets worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning, capping off the Lightning victory and a berth in the regional semifinal.
“I’m extremely pleased,” Clausen said. “Playoffs are supposed to be about competition and they competed. They earned their win. That’s what we told them, we came out here and earned the win. So, we’re going to go on with the same thought: You have to come out and earn your win just like Reservoir has to come out and earn their win. We’re going to put up a fight, make them earn it.”