WOODSTOCK — Central put up a strong fight but came up short on Monday afternoon.
The Falcons rallied from a four-run deficit only to fall 5-4 to East Rockingham in the Region 2B softball quarterfinals.
“I thought we played well enough to win,” Central coach Scott Mongold said. “You’re in region softball now and unfortunately one or two pitches make or break a ballgame.”
East Rockingham (17-5) broke a 4-4 tie in the top of the seventh. With two outs, East Rockingham’s Autumn Bailey reached on an error. Courtney Shifflett then drew a walk from Central starting pitcher Alicia Ball.
East Rockingham’s Sarah Smith followed with an RBI single to give the Eagles a 5-4 lead.
“Sarah has really come on lately,” East Rockingham coach Ronnie Dovel said. “She’s a freshman, and that’s her second big hit in the seventh inning for us in the last three games for us. So she’s starting to hit the ball well for us.”
The Falcons (12-10) trailed 4-0 after three innings but rallied with four runs in the fifth inning. With one out, Brooke Green and Olivia Wightman drew back-to-back walks from East Rockingham starting pitcher Samantha Hensley. East Rockingham tried to get a force out at third base on a grounder hit by Chloee Burton, but the throw was not in time. That loaded the bases for Central senior Alex Mantz.
Dovel said he thought about walking Mantz, who has committed to playing at Shepherd University next year, but decided to pitch to her. Mantz entered the game leading the area with a .532 batting average and seven homers.
Mantz drilled a pitch over the center field fence for a grand slam and her eighth homer of the season to tie it at 4-4.
“I went into it thinking that the score is already 4-0 and the chances of us winning are pretty low,” Mantz said. “I went in there and I thought to myself this is probably my last at-bat at Central High School and I wanted to go out with a bang. So that’s what I did.”
With the Falcons trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, they had one last chance. With two outs, Burton drew a walk from East Rockingham relief pitcher Shifflett. This time Dovel elected to intentionally walk Mantz putting runners on first and second with two outs.
“I was very disappointed because I felt it again,” Mantz said. “I was like ‘OK, home run again.’ But it doesn’t always work out that way.”
Burton and Mantz pulled off a double steal to put runners at second and third. Shifflett induced a groundout from Ivy Mongold to end the inning and seal the victory for the Eagles.
East Rockingham has had to play the last five games without regular starting pitcher Jessica McDonaldson due to a shoulder injury and Dovel said that McDonaldson is likely out for the year. He said he was pleased with how both Hansley and Shifflett pitched.
“(Hensley) just don’t have the stamina right now because she hasn’t pitched that much this year,” Dovel said. “Courtney (Shifflett) came in and done a really good job for us.”
East Rockingham took a 4-0 lead on two homers in the second and third innings. Shifflett led off the top of the second with a solo home run. In the top of the third, Briana Roach led off with a single. Hensley reached on a two-base error and Bailey followed with a three-run homer for a 4-0 edge.
“Those are the kind of mistakes you can’t make when you’re getting ready to play one-run softball,” Mongold said of Central’s untimely errors. “We knew when we came into the dugout today that we were getting ready to play one-run softball.”
Roach led the Eagles with two hits. The Falcons only had two hits as a team.
East Rockingham will either play reigning Class 2 state champion Page County or Clarke County in the regional semifinals with a state berth on the line. East Rockingham and Page County split their meetings in the regular season.
“It’s going to be an uphill challenge for us with our starting pitcher out,” Dovel said. “But you know it’s a rival game and anything can happen in rival games. We’ve played twice this year and both of them have been one-run games. One for them and one for us. So we’ll see what happens.”
Mantz said despite the loss, she believes the Falcons had a good season.
“I think we played better than most people thought we were going to,” Mantz said. “I’m definitely going to miss playing with these girls. This year was different than the rest. Everybody got along and when one person was doing something great it was like the team all came together.”