This wasn't how it was supposed to end for the greatest senior class of softball players in Poland history or the coach who molded the Bulldogs into an Ohio high school powerhouse.
Erin Gabriel, Jenna Modic and Poland's other seniors were trying to close out their careers - and that of Bulldogs coach Reid Lamport - with back-to-back Division II state championships.
But the dream died in the rain, mud and afternoon gloom at Firestone Stadium on Friday as unbeaten LaGrange Keystone avenged its loss in last year's title game by eliminating Poland, 4-0, as pitcher Kenzie Conrad blanked the Bulldogs on three hits.
It was a bitter way for Poland's season to end and for the high school careers of Gabriel, Modic and fellow seniors Maura Bobby, Kalie Benson, Emily Chandler and Amber Isaacson to draw to a close.
"I can't let this one game define what we've done the past four years," Gabriel said. "I can't let it be the defining point in our season. I thank all the people for the support. We had a great turnout every time we played. Also, my teammates are amazing and the coaching staff - you can't get a better one. I just thank everyone for everything the've done."
Keystone will meet Greenville (29-4) in today's title game. Greenville beat Circleville Logan Elm, 3-0, in Friday's first semifinal.
"I'm not going to be able to stop smiling for like three days," Wildcats shortstop Erin Pond said.
The Wildcats won despite getting just two hits off Gabriel. But one was an RBI single by Conrad and the other was a two-run single by Pond.
"We've been on both ends of those kinds of games," Lamport said. "It stinks on this end and it's a lot of fun on the other end. They got a couple timely singles. Their two singles were run-producing singles."
Gabriel - headed to the University of Tennessee on a softball scholarship - shut out Keystone on one hit in last year's Division II championship, but struggled Friday in a persistent rain in the fourth and fifth innings.
Gabriel hit a batter and allowed Conrad's RBI single in the top of the fourth. In the fifth, the Poland ace walked the bases loaded and gave Pond's two-run single against a drawn-in infield. Benson, the Bulldogs' shortstop, lunged and got a glove on the ball, but couldn't knock it down. Another run scored moments later on a wild pitch.
But despite the rain, the footing in the pitcher's circle wasn't the issue, according to Gabriel.
"I kept asking for a new ball and I just couldn't find a good one to use," she said.
And yet play continued until the umpires finally ordered the teams off the field and the grounds crew covered the infield with one out, Pond at third base and a 2-1 count on Mallory Nagy.
But the damage was done.
The teams waited out a one hour and 47-minute rain delay and Gabriel and the Bulldogs returned to the field and escaped the jam without allowing any more runs, but Poland (27-3) managed only a two-out single by Modic in the sixth and never solved Conrad.
"It's not a good feeling, because I didn't want to stop playing with these girls," Modic said. "I've been playing with them since I was in coach-pitch. We had our own little family here with softball. I wish the underclassmen the best of luck next year. I'm moving on to play down at Miami (Ohio), so I'm still going to support them down there."
The Bulldogs had their chances, especially early. Their leadoff batters reached base in each of the first three innings, but Poland never came up with the clutch, run-scoring hit needed to get them home. The Bulldogs had only one baserunner after the third inning.
Marissa Trevis lined a single to left field to lead off the first inning and Meredith Testa sacrificed her to second, but Modic and Gabriel both flied to right. On a normal day, their fly balls might have been liners to the gap or over the head of right fielder Alyson Broschk, but not with a 25-mph wind blowing in from the southeast.
Taylor Miokovic lined a single to center field to open the second and Benson sacrificed her to second. But Emily Chandler grounded to short as Miokovic took third and Arlia Duarte struck out looking to end the inning.
That was the first of just four strikeouts by Conrad. But Keystone's defense was all but airtight behind her. After a Pond error allowed Bobby to reach to start the third, Conrad retired 11 batters in a row. The streak ended on Modic's ground single to right in the sixth.
"She had her low ball working for her today and we just kept beating it into the ground," Modic said.
Miokovic agreed, but said the Bulldogs missed on some pitches they could have driven.
"She had it low, but then she'd always make a mistake and throw a good one right there in the middle for you to hit," Miokovic said. "We just didn't time her too good today."
Poland's best at-bats came early, but didn't yield runs.
"We put the bat on the ball early and I thought good things were going to happen, but then it didn't," said Lamport, who was denied his 500th victory with Poland and will finish his 23-year career at Poland with a record of 499-110.
Lamport, 60, will retire with a career record of 528-112.
Conrad retired 13 Poland batters on groundouts, including the Bulldogs' two sacrifices.
"She's not going to get 15 strikeouts," Lamport said. "That's not her style. ... They're not 30-0 because they can't play defense."
Conrad's single in the fourth provided the only run she needed, but the Wildcats' three-run fifth essentially put the game out of reach. The inning began when Carleigh Herrington lined a ball off Gabriel's leg. Benson grabbed the carom and retired Herrington at first, but Gabriel walked the next three batters as the rain began to fall harder.
There were two close plays at third in the inning, including one on which Gabriel felt she'd made a tag of Brittany Bowers before she got to the bag, but both calls went Keystone's way.
In the end, Poland - which usually did all the little things right - was undone by an opponent that simply them better on this day.
"We played Keystone softball today," Wildcats coach Jim Piazza said. "I don't think we played Keystone softball last year (in the state championship) and I took full credit for that. Today, we did."