South Charleston – Independence seemingly had all the edges in Wednesday’s Class AA state tournament elimination game against Oak Glen.
A two-time first-team all-state ace? Check. The opposing team’s second-best pitcher in the circle? Check. A nearly flawless defensive performance? Check. An early 3-0 lead? Check.
In the end it didn’t matter.
Oak Glen grabbed the momentum Wednesday evening, exploding in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to earn a 9-7 win over the Patriots at Little Creek Park in South Charleston.
The loss ends Independence’s season with a clean sweep in the state tournament while Oak Glen advances to Thursday’s semifinal round where it will face Herbert Hoover in an elimination game.
With ace Lizzie Kell unavailable after taking a line drive off her facemask in Oak Glen’s early game against Winfield, the Golden Bears turned to Addie Smith who had her struggles early.
But once Kell left the hospital and returned to the dugout in the fourth inning, the match was lit leading to an explosion, even if she didn’t see the field.
After Indy ace Delaney Buckland issued a leadoff walk and followed with a single, Liv Munoz blasted a three-run home run that tied the game at 3-3 right after Kell’s return.
“We knew she was on her way and had stitches taken care,” Oak Glen head coach Sherri Garner said of Kell. “The girls knew she was coming so when they saw her I thought ‘Sydney (Brown) you might want to step out of the box for a minute.’ But they love her and were enthused. A few of them went to the hospital so we got lunch for them but we stayed in communication all the time, but that’s the kids they are. They’ve played together a long time.”
The gut shot came in the fifth inning when the Golden Bears got a beat on Buckland. With two outs, Sydney Brown, who started the previous rally with a walk, tied the game again with a two-run home run. Indy hoped the escape the frame with a tie but when it rained it poured.
Maddie Murray followed with a single and Buckland fanned Sarah Brown in the No. 3 slot for the second out but a double from Munoz put two in scoring position. Smith helped her own cause with a triple and later scored on a Kayla Smith liner right over the shortstop to make it an 8-5 game in favor of the Golden Bears.
It was a shock for the Patriots who rolled early.
Buckland was perfect through three innings, striking out seven of the nine batters she faced and Kassidy Bradbury backed Buckland’s cause with an RBI-single to score Alli Hypes in the first.
Kendall Martin, who drove in six runs on the day including five in the game against Oak Glen, expanded the Indy lead to 3-0 with a double in the third that scored Hypes and Emma Lilly.
After Oak Glen tied it on Munoz’s homer, Martin again answered the call with a two-run single in the fifth that again plated Hypes and Lilly.
“That’s what we expect her to do,” Indy head coach Ken Adkins said of Martin. “She’s a senior and I think she felt that today. Great job and she almost robbed a home run. Emma Lilly did a great job too. How many great catches did she make? Probably robbed a home run on one ball. There just wasn’t enough to get us to tomorrow.”
Oak Glen continued the offensive parade in the sixth, adding a run on a Sarah Brown sacrifice fly but Indy made it interesting.
Two of the first three Patriots reached via an error and a double before Martin added the final RBI of her career with a groundout to make it 9-6. Bradbury kept the train rolling with an RBI-single and an error at second base ninth following at-bat allowed Harmony Mills to reach for the tying run but Smith induced a grounder to send the Patriots packing.
In total the Golden Bears tallied 10 hits with eight of their runs being earned.
“I think (Buckland’s) phenomenal but our top hitters, they hit a fast pitcher,” Garner said. “We see enough of that consistent pitch. She has her stuff where she’ll keep you guessing but they’re going to come through and I believe in them and they believe in each other. Their heads weren’t always up but they have to believe in each other and they were pushing through that emotion. They had us for awhile but you tie it up and tie it up again and you push through that extra inning.”
Independence finishes the season at 24-11 and will graduate key contributors such as Buckland and Martin.