Something strange happened to the Poland Bulldogs and pitcher Erin Gabriel during Thursday's Division II state semifinal against New Concord John Glenn at Akron's Firestone Stadium.
Poland was trailing with Gabriel on the mound - something that hadn't happened all season.
But the Bulldogs didn't roll over and die, they fought back. The No. 1 team in the state in Division II rallied to score three runs in the sixth and added another in the bottom of the seventh to defeat the Muskies, 5-4, and advance to the Division II state final.
"Sometimes it's not who does make the play, it is who doesn't make the play," Poland coach Reid Lamport said. "That was a crazy inning. I take nothing away from them (John Glenn) and I feel awful for that pitcher. But, we had the bases loaded, the pressure was on them."
In a game filled with errors and mental miscues, it was unfortunately fitting the game ended on an error.
With one out, Poland loaded the bases. Kalie Benson then hit a chopper back to John Glenn pitcher Rachel Townsend. Townsend threw home - trying to force out Adriana Sikora - but overthrew catcher Sydney Brown and Sikora scored the winning run.
"It was definitely one of those things when I saw the ball go over her head, and you realize what happened, there aren't words to describe that," Sikora said. "To realize you scored the winning run, it's unbelievable."
Unfortunately for both teams, errors had much to do with nearly all the runs scored on Thursday.
Poland grabbed the early 1-0 lead when Jenna Modic blasted a home run to right center field in the third inning. The score remained that way until the fifth when the Muskie bats suddenly came to life. Using two hits, one Poland error, a mental error and a very rare wild pitch by Gabriel, John Glenn all of a sudden had the 4-1 advantage.
With all the momentum on the side of John Glenn to go along with a few stunned Poland faces, it could have been the beginning of the end to Poland's dream season.
The bottom of the frame led off with an error by John Glenn, putting Megan Hirschbeck on first base. Next came up Gabriel, who lined a single, advancing courtesy runner Meredith Testa to second and an intentional walk to Modic loaded the bases for Sikora. With a 1-0 count, the junior hit a ground ball to shortstop Jenna Shingary, who overthrew the throw to home. That scored Testa and Maura Bobby (who was running for Gabriel), pulling the Bulldogs within a run. Sikora, now on third after the misplay, touched home herself on an RBI groundout by Nicole White, tying the score at 4.
"I thought the key was after their big inning, when they scored those runs, and went up 4-1, that we came right back," Lamport said. "From that point on, it was an even game. So I think that was huge for us. It gave our girls confidence and the momentum back in our favor."
Though Gabriel had to work from behind and had to work through many innings, the sophomore pitcher still struck out 10 batters and allowed three hits. Two of those three hits came in the fifth.
"This team has been hitting great, so I had no doubt we could come back," Gabriel said. "When I came back out, I was just hoping I could keep it tied until we could come back and put some more runs on the board."
Poland now advances to the state final at 10 a.m. on Saturday against Hebron Lakewood, which defeated Greenville, 5-4, in the semifinal. Fans of area softball might remember the Lancers as they defeated Ursuline in the Division III state final last season.
"I don't know a lot about them, but I know they've won two state championships," Lamport said. "I wouldn't say it's an advantage, but it's also not all brand new to them. We know they can play. We're going to have to score some runs and play good defense."