Hawks fall victim to bad breaks in playoff defeat

Skyline's Emma Benson is covered with dirt after a collison in the seventh inning. Rich Cooley/Daily

SALEM – Skyline’s VHSL Class 3 state semifinal softball game against unbeaten Tabb figured to be the Hawks’ toughest challenge yet in 2018. It didn’t help, then, that the Hawks left the Moyer Sports Complex feeling like Lady Luck had been their opposition, as well.

Skyline’s season came to an end with a 6-0 loss at the hands of the Tigers, who will play Cave Spring on Saturday morning for the Class 3 state title. Several of the Hawks said afterward that it was like Friday’s contest was one full of bad breaks.

“That’s exactly what it felt like, actually,” senior right fielder Lexi Grim said shortly after the loss, which snapped the Hawks’ 11-game winning streak a victory short of the program’s first state title game appearance. “Normally we get those lucky things that happen to us as a team but we just didn’t get those. Luck wasn’t on our side today.”

The omen for what the rest of the day would bring for Skyline came in the first inning, when the Hawks – who had shaken their propensity for slow offensive starts in four earlier playoff games – loaded the bases against Tabb starter Alyssa Lowe in the first inning and came up empty.

The same happened in the second, with junior catcher Rachel Sirbaugh sending an opposite-field shot to right only to have the ball tracked down by Tabb’s Kaitlin Horton, who made an over-the-shoulder grab on the run to end the threat.

“You’ve gotta capitalize when runners are in position,” said Sirbaugh, who finished with two hits, both coming with the bases empty in the fifth and seventh innings. “It’s not like we didn’t hit it. I mean mine was a hard fly ball to right and she made a great catch. They just didn’t fall for us today and that just happens sometimes.”

The Hawks, who did not have a strikeout in seven innings against Lowe, also had an offensive inning end on a play at the plate when Alana Smith was called out on a high tag trying to score on Abbey Lee’s two-out single to right field in the fourth. Tabb led 1-0 at the time.

Skyline head coach John Ritter denied that the Hawks’ missed opportunities early had much of an impact on the game during which Skyline trailed 1-0 before the Tigers opened things up with a five-run seventh. Senior pitcher Tamara Grayson felt differently, however.

“With the bases loaded, if we would’ve got a hit when we needed it, we would’ve won this game, hands down,” said Grayson, who threw 27 straight scoreless innings in the playoffs before surrendering a run in the top of the third. “We would’ve been on top and we never would’ve went down. I think (after that) we were on like a little roller coaster, we just couldn’t stay up.”

Ritter said the turning point came in the final frame, when Skyline surrendered the big inning that secured its fate.

Tabb’s five-run inning began with a leadoff single and was extended with a fielder’s choice on a routine grounder to short with two outs. Ritter then chose to intentionally walk Tabb slugger Sydney Jacobsen to load the bases for cleanup hitter Kristen Malloy, who had grounded out in her three previous trips to the plate.

Malloy made light contact on a 1-2 offering from Grayson and floated a short pop-up toward the bag at second. Shortstop Emma Benson and second baseman Lexi Clatterbuck converged near the bag, and the ball squirted out of Clatterbuck’s mitt as she made a lunging attempt on the run. The bloop culminated in a two-run single, the first of three straight run-scoring hits that stretched Tabb’s lead to 6-0.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Grayson said of the seventh inning. “Nothing today was in our favor.”

The last of Tabb’s hits was a softly hit ball off the bat of Leah Overbay that dropped to the turf in front of Skyline center fielder Alana Smith that plated two.

“They just got the breaks,” Ritter said of the Tigers, who also had three infield singles scattered among their 10 hits. “As far as I was concerned, I never seen them hit the ball as well as we hit the ball. A lot of theirs was just bloopers here and there. And I’ll watch things like that. You know what, that’s just how things go sometimes on that part of it.”

Grim noted that she felt Friday’s game was “definitely” a game the Hawks should’ve won, but the tough luck wasn’t enough to sour the accomplishments Skyline recorded in 2018.

“I’m very thankful for the experience of being here and being the first team (at Skyline) to ever be here,” Grim said. “That’s something I can always take away.”