But then the Edison softball team caught a lucky bounce. And an even worse break.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning of Thursday’s Division III regional semifinal, Edison catcher KayLee Fox had relief pitcher Erica Reber’s pitch slip by her to the backstop for a passed ball.
Rather than have no chance and the game be over, the ball caromed right back to Fox, who then dove back to home plate to make the tag.
However, the Sandy Valley runner slid in just before Fox could get back, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win in a game that took two hours and 47 minutes at Ashland’s Brookside Park.
“There isn’t a tougher loss than that. Regional semifinals … 10 innings, and you lose on a play like that at the plate,” Edison coach Dale Dawson said. “It doesn’t get more agonizing than that as a player and a coach to get this far and then lose like that. This is really hard right now.”
Reber — with just 41 innings in 15 appearances this season — was forced into the game for the final batter. Edison starter and ace Karyn Schmidt could no longer grip the ball, as the junior was dripping in sweat as temperatures hovered into the high 80s.
After allowing a single in which the Sandy Valley runner advanced to second on the throw with two outs, Schmidt intentionally walked the next batter.
On the first pitch to the ensuing batter, the ball got away from her, and went low on Fox and to the backstop that allowed the runners to move into scoring position.
That prompted Dawson to intentionally walk another batter to load the bases, setting up a force at any base, and after a second mound visit, Schmidt had told her coach she was having trouble with her grip.
Forced to make the change, Dawson turned to Reber. After two balls, Reber battled back to work a 2-2 count. One strike away from forcing an 11th inning, the passed ball ended the game with Fox coming up less than a foot short of extending Edison’s season.
“It was definitely to our advantage being the home team,” Sandy Valley coach Jill Williams said after her team advanced to face No. 6 Eastwood in Saturday’s title game. “Not that there wasn’t pressure, there was pressure all the time. But we knew we had one more shot if they scored. I think Edison is an amazing team that fought hard and had some experience going to this level.”
Ominously, the game started with Emily Weyer reaching on a bunt single as the game’s very first batter, and she’d go on to score off a pair of passed balls on the Cardinals’ catcher for a 1-0 lead.
Schmidt made that lead stand until the Cardinals plated two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Schmidt hit a batter and allowed a single that put the first two runners on base.
On a suicide squeeze, Gabby Stoll fielded the bunt halfway up the third base line, and initially looked the runner back.
However, when she got the out at first, the runner broke from third and got past Fox for the run.
After a strikeout gave Sandy Valley two outs, an infield hit was misplayed, and the second runner scored from third to put the Cardinals up 2-1.
It appeared that was all Sandy Valley starter Destinee Hughes was going to need, as she held that lead with one out in the seventh and Edison (23-8) down to its final two outs.
But on a 3-1 pitch, Hannah Oeder smacked a ball to dead centerfield that bounced at the base of the fence for a double.
As a pinch hitter, Reber struck out on three pitches, and No. 8 hitter Peyton Michel saw a first pitch strike that put Edison just two strikes from elimination.
But Michel swung and put a ball to shallow center that fell between two defenders, and a bobble on the fielding of the ball allowed Oeder to score standing up and tie the game.
“For a freshman to come back and tie it up like that, as a No. 8 hitter … it seems like it’s been that way all year,” Dawson said. “The bottom of the order, they’ll struggle the whole game, but when you need them the most, they come through.”
The top of the eighth inning appeared to be Edison’s best chance at scratching across another run. Schmidt opened with a single, and was sacrificed to second by Chelsea Imus.
With first base open, Fox, with 15 home runs to her credit, was intentionally walked. Gabby Stoll then worked the count to 3-0, but grounded out the next pitch right to third.
The third baseman then just stepped on the bag for the force our to get the lead runner, and Victoria Grames flied out at the edge of the infield to second base to end the inning.
“Conventional wisdom says to let Gabby take another pitch there, but she’s out No. 5 hitter and one of our top hitters,” Dawson said. “We needed to let her swing there.”
A pair of two-out singles in the bottom half of the eighth forced Dawson to call for another intentional walk to load the bases, but Schmidt worked out of it with a strikeout to end the threat.
Oeder was stranded at second in the top of the ninth, and the Cardinals went quietly in the bottom half.
Sandy Valley nearly came up with a big extra base hit to start the home half of the 10th, but Edison’s Sephe Sanabria made a nice diving basket catch in left for the second out of the inning.
However, the Cardinals then started their two-out rally that sent them to Saturday.
“You play enough games, you’ll get those tough hops and breaks to go against you,” Dawson said. “You just have to be able to overcome them. We knew we wouldn’t shut this team out. To hold them to three runs in ten innings, I thought Karyn and the defense did a great job … we just made mistakes at the wrong time.”