By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Once again, the margin was one run. Only this time, it took extra innings to decide a winner.
Paige Mills sent a grounder to the right side of the infield to plate Amanda Lutz in the bottom of the 11th inning Friday night to give Sherando a 3-2 win over Skyline in the Northwestern District one-game playoff for the regular season title.
By beating the Hawks for the second time in three days, the Warriors earned the top seed for today's district semifinal round (to be played at Skyline) and the automatic berth to the Region II tournament.
"I'll give the girls credit -- they work extremely hard," Sherando first-season coach Garry Sawyer said. "Wow, never did any of the girls get down on anybody. They're always picking each other up and to be a champion, you've got to do stuff like that."
The Warriors got a scare in the late innings when Lutz, who wears a mask when she pitches due to an injury in travel ball, took a liner from Kaitlin Robinson in the eighth off her stomach. Lutz stayed in the game and stayed tough the rest of the way. She limited the Hawks to five hits and two earned runs in the game.
"I was just ready," Lutz said. "I got hit over the summer [of 2009] and luckily, it wasn't the face this time."
After a pair of 1-0 decisions in which the visiting team won each time, the teams settled their rubber match on Millbrook's neutral field.
And though she is 1-2 against the Warriors, Sarah Beamer has yet to give up an earned run from the circle against her rival. The Skyline freshman (11 strikeouts) allowed just two hits through 10 innings before Sherando (15-5) rallied to win in the 11th.
Lutz, the only player on either side to have multiple hits, beat out her grounder to the left side for a lead-off hit. Abby Lopp then singled to center and both runners moved into scoring position on a passed ball on strike three to Kourtney Paige.
That brought up Mills, who hit a high pitch sharply to second baseman Mandy Poe, who only had time to get the out at first as Lutz came across to score the winning run.
"I would say both teams stayed up really well," Lutz said. "We could have gotten down after that first inning [when the Warriors trailed 1-0], but we came back."
Mills, who had been 0-for-2 officially before her last at-bat, knew she had to get the ball in play to give Sherando a chance.
"Everybody was like 'Stay calm, you'll do your thing, you're a hitter, we do this everyday in practice -- just hit,'" Mills said. "And that gave me some confidence to get up there and hit the ball."
Skyline (14-7) had taken a 1-0 lead in the first off Lutz, forcing her to make 27 pitches. Lutz walked one, hit two other batters, and Taylor Henry's RBI groundout plated Casey Henry for the lead.
After that, the Hawks did not score again until the 10th.
"We're the kind of team when we come out and get a [run] early, we think we've got the ball game won and we have a tendency to sit back on our heels and not be aggressive," Skyline coach Richard Armstrong said. "And that's what happened to us today."
To keep Skyline from the big inning, Lutz had several outstanding plays behind her in the field.
It all started with Jessica Seymour when she came up throwing on Tommi Michael's grounder up the middle in the second and gunned Michael out at first by a step. Catcher Lexie Meeker twice threw out would-be basestealers and right fielder Samantha Musser made an outstanding catch in the ninth to rob Casey Henry of a hit, tracking the ball five feet from the fence and making a back-hand putout.
"My defense was amazing -- I'm never worried to put [pitches in the strike zone] because I know the defense will back me up," said Lutz, who needed just four strikeouts to get the win in her complete game effort. "No matter how terribly I might pitch some night, I know they're still going to pick me up and tell me 'You've got this Amanda, you can do it.' So it's a good feeling to know you always have a strong defense behind you."
In the fourth, Sherando found a way to tie the game. Paige sent a one-out rocket through Sabrie Neeb's legs at third for a two-base error and moved around to score on a pair of wild pitches.
On the second wild pitch Shifflett was slow to recover, but still had enough time to flip back to Beamer covering the plate. The Hawks couldn't get the out, though, as Paige got under the tag to tie the game at 1-1.
Neither team seriously threatened again until both scored a run in the 10th.
Taylor Henry singled through the left-side leading off the 10th, moved to second on Shifflett's sacrifice bunt, avoided a tag going by shortstop Erica Doyle on Robinson's grounder, and scored on Michael's two-out ground single to left for a 2-1 lead.
Sherando came right back to extend the game. Lacie Taylor walked and just got back to the bag at first on a pickoff attempt. Musser moved Taylor with a sacrifice bunt before Seymour sent a slightly tailing liner to left. Chelsea Albanese got in position to make a play, but the fly dropped out of her glove for a two-base error, and Taylor scored the tying run.
"I thought it was a routine play," Armstrong said. "That's just my thoughts, but I mean, she had to make maybe two steps to her right and the ball's right in her glove. We just don't make the catch."
In the 11th, Casey Henry doubled to deep center and never slowed coming around second. Henry was nailed at third on the relay, though it appeared she had the play beat to the bag due to her slide and a high tag.
Lutz got Beamer to fly to center to end the inning and the Warriors mounted their winning rally in the bottom of the 11th.
If Sherando wins the first semifinal today, the Skyline/Millbrook winner will advance to the tournament championship game and also join Sherando in the region tournament.