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May 29, 2016

Blair softball loses high-scoring state semifinal

by Benjamin Yokoyama, Online Sports Editor
The Blair Blazers (16-5) and the Chopticon Braves (20-4) battled each other for six innings, but the seventh inning saw 14 total runs scored and ended when Chopticon's bats came alive and brought the winning run across. Starting pitcher Karylena Cruz pitched six innings of two-run ball, working out of jams and allowing only those runs to come around to score, and Blair seemed to have the game won after scoring six runs of their own in the top of the seventh. The bottom of the seventh saw eight runs come across for the Braves on four run-scoring hits to the outfield.

From the start the fireworks flew for the Blazers. After two outs, Cruz earned first base after a hit by pitch, bringing up the cleanup hitter. Freshman designated hitter Courtney Wyche followed with a two-run shot over the left-center field fence. In the bottom of the inning, a scare by the Braves came from a weak line drive and a throwing error, putting a second runner on base. Wyche's big fly set the tone for Blair's offense and defense and helped Blair concentrate in a big game. "We got tons of momentum from that, especially because we haven't done it much, but it's such a big play that everyone could stop and take a deep breath. It really took the pressure off both offensively and defensively," head coach Louis Hoelman said.

The Blazers went quickly in the second, but the Braves battled back in the bottom of the inning, stringing together four hits. With the bases loaded, the Chopticon hitter drove a two-run single back up the middle, which tied the game back at two. After the first inning, Blair was having a tough time at the plate. From the second to the sixth, Blair only managed one and tallied nine strikeouts. Despite striking out looking for all three outs of the fourth inning, Blair managed to push a run across. Junior Izzy Lott stepped up with two outs and hit a hard grounder to the Braves’ shortstop, who threw it clean over the outstretched arm of the first baseman, leaving a clear path for Lott to take second. The next at bat proved eventful for Lott on the base paths, as she hustled to third on a wild pitch by the pitcher, and then went on to take home on yet another wild pitch. Thanks to Lott's dash, the Blazers regained the lead and held onto it until the seventh. Coach Hoelman loved the aggressive baserunning that helped them regain the lead. "Once we got on the basepaths, we were putting so much pressure on them and it was great to see," he said.

The scored remained 3-2 in favor of the Blazers until the eventful seventh inning. After being quieted by the Chopticon pitcher for six innings, Blair took advantage of more mistakes by the Braves and helped themselves out with some timely hits. After reaching on two errors, a walk and a sacrifice bunt, seniors Anna Reachmack, Cruz and Reva Kreeger combined to drive in the fourth and fifth runs of the inning. Blair was able to plate another before the inning abruptly ended on a play at the plate in which Kreeger was called out after nearly avoiding the tag from the catcher. Even though they had a tough time at the plate, the Blazers broke out of their funk for a huge inning. "We finally stepped up and said we needed to be more aggressive. We were waiting a little bit too much for the perfect pitch, so we became more aggressive and it paid off nicely," Hoelman said.

After giving up a crooked number in the top of the inning, Chopticon was ready to give up everything despite a big deficit. The Braves started off with three straight singles to load the bases. Third baseman Lily Montgomery made the first out of the inning on a smart play at home, but the Blazers would not record another out. Another single followed, scoring two Braves. After a walk, a triple and a double brought in four more runs to cut the deficit to one. Two more balls to the outfield brought in the tying and winning runs for the Braves, who moved on to play Sherwood in the state finals. "I've got to give Chopticon all the credit in the world. They believed, they never gave up, and they refused to lose. When they made the comeback, we felt a bit of pressure and we didn't play our normal game when that pressure came," Hoelman said.



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