(Cover photo: Sarah Metzger batting for Assumption. Credit: Eric Thorne)
While it may not have been graceful, Assumption catcher Sarah Metzger with one mighty lunge thrust her body and mitt toward the backstop fence.
When the junior raised her head from the dirt, she saw the ball clutched inside, just inches from the fence. As her teammates swarmed her, she grinned knowing that her Rockets were advance in the Seventh Region softball tournament with a 2-1 victory over host Manual on May 30.
“First I was like ‘Oh crap! My foot’s stuck,’” Metzger said, “and I just tried to hobble along and laid out for it like I was used to catching them in the outfield. I saw the ball go in and tied to hold on. I didn’t know it was still in ’til I looked up.”
Assumption (15-17) took advantage of some nervous miscues by the Lady Crimsons early in the game as freshman Braxton Downs delivered a bases-loaded double to left centerfield to drive home two runs in the first inning.
Maggie Metzger reached on an error, and Sabrina Fussenegger and Kay Nilest were each hit by pitches from Madison Williams to set up Downs. The Rockets managed just three hits off Williams, but the one by Downs was the decisive one.
“This is such a confidence booster for me and so exciting being a freshman and my first district and regional game setting,” Downs said. “You have to be comfortable with being in an uncomfortable situation, and that’s what I was today.”
Assumption coach Lisa Pinkston said the game played just as she envisioned it.
“These two teams are almost evenly matched player for player, so it could have gone either way,” Pinkston said. “Braxton is a special player who set the pace for the game early on, which is good for us. We knew Williams had an ERA under 2.0 coming in, so runs were going to be tough.”
Fussenegger and Williams both pitched brilliantly for the majority of the game.
“I wish we could start games over, but you can’t,” said Manual head coach Andrew Hundley. “And give Assumption credit – they took advantage of us being a little uptight early on. We responded after that first inning and I’m very proud of that. With two great senior leaders like Madison for us and Sabrina for them, it was going to be a close battle.”
Manual (21-9) finally scored in the sixth when Abigale Harper singled with one out. Kristin Smith then sent a long fly ball to the centerfield fence that Lillie Bennett couldn’t hold onto as she hit the fence hard allowing Harper to score.
In the final inning, Bennett tried unsuccessfully to haul in a short fly ball by Amanda Newcomer. The senior moved to second on a fielder choice, and third on a fly out by Ally Ridenour. That brought Williams to the plate, but she popped back to Metzger to end the game.
If we didn’t have those errors early, I think we would have won,” Williams said. “I thought I pitched well and they are a good team. Give them a lot of credit.”
Hundley reflected on his team’s season.
“It was a weird spring with a ton of rain out and we’ve missed our rhythm at times with those games being cancelled,” Hundley said, “We never got back to the level we were a month ago. But the seven seniors on the team are a great representation of what Manual softball is all about.”
The Rockets turned a double play and snagged numerous hot shot line drives throughout the game. They stared down the Manual players with a lot of confidence not seen consistently this year.
“Coach asked what do we want and how do we want to be remembered this season,” Fussenegger explained, “and I said ‘We want to be the team on top.’ This is my last year of high school and I want to finish on top, and I believe we will.”
Assumption advances to Wednesday’s Seventh Region semifinals at the University of Louisville’s Ulmer Stadium where they take on Eastern (20-17) at 5:30 p.m. Male will face Ballard in the other semifinal following that game. The Rockets defeated the Eagles 6-2 in the opening game of the season.
“That was so long ago and really doesn’t matter right now,” Pinkston said. “This is a whole new season that started today. One game at a time because it’s really Male and then everyone else, but we’re still playing and that’s what matters.”