TIPP CITY — National Trail’s softball team had not played for a district championship since 1997 and the Blazers had not won a district since 1991, but all that changed on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Tipp City last weekend.
Trail built a big lead early, then had to withstand a furious rally by Riverside on Saturday, May 18.
The Pirates nearly completed a comeback after falling behind by eight runs early in a Division IV district final against National Trail but lost 11-9.
The Blazers took a 9-1 lead after the third inning but the Pirates pulled within 10-9 after the sixth inning. National Trail scored a run in the top of the seventh but Riverside got two runners on base in the bottom half with one out before the last two batters hit into routine outs.
With the win, Trail improved its record to 17-7 and advances to the regional semifinals for the first time since 1991. The Blazers will meet state No. 4 Mechanicsburg on Wednesday, May 22 at Greenville’s Stebbins Field in the second of two semifinal contests that day. Game one will feature top-ranked Minster against Felicity-Franklin at 2 p.m. with the second game scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
Sophomore pitcher Jalynn Stanley put the Pirates ahead with an RBI single to right field in the bottom of the first inning, but National Trail battled back in the second.
The Blazers led off the inning with two singles and Jenna Petitt later hit an RBI single to tie it 1-1. Kaleigh Minner hit into a fielder’s choice that resulted in a force out at home plate for the second out of the inning, but Skyler Ward followed by hitting a grand slam over the 223-feet sign in center field into evergreen trees planted behind the fence.
The first two National Trail batters reached on errors in the third inning, the second of which allowed a runner to score from second base to boost the lead to 6-1. The squad ended up scoring three more runs on four hits to boost the lead to 9-1.
Stanley hit a two-run home run that bounced off the top of the center-field fence into the evergreens in the third inning to pull Riverside within 9-3.
Stanley was pulled from the pitching circle after giving up one single and three walks in the fourth, the last of which walked in a run and pushed the lead to 10-3. Freshman pitcher Jenna Woods pitched the last 3 1/3 innings without giving up a hit and walking two batters.
The Pirates got back in the game by scoring three runs on three hits and two walks in the fifth inning.
After loading the bases with three singles, National Trail starting pitcher Davlyn Werner walked in a run with Smith at the plate, then intentionally walked Stanley to score another run and bring Riverside within 10-5.
Kalin Kreglow hit a sacrifice groundout to score one run before the end of the inning and bring Riverside within 10-6.
Riverside added three runs on four hits in the sixth. Werner was replaced by Skyler Ward in the circle with two outs, but then Giles hit an RBI double off the left-field fence and Smith hit a 2-RBI single to right field to bring Riverside within 10-9. Ward walked the next two batters to load the bases before getting a pop out to end the inning.
Pettit drew a walk to start the top of the seventh for National Trail and moved to second on a passed ball. After moving to third on a groundout, she scored on a passed ball to extend the lead to two runs.
Jordynn Marshall hit a single with one out in the bottom of the seventh and Malaina Jenkins then reached first base on an error, but Amerra Huston and Giles hit consecutive pop outs to end it.
To get to the district final, Trail knocked off county rival Tri-County North 10-9 on Tuesday, May 14.
After falling behind by five runs in the top of the first, Trail slowly began its comeback. Trail scored in every inning. They scored once in the first, twice in the second and three times in the third to get even at 6-6. Trail grabbed the lead with two runs in the sixth.
North added a run in the seventh for the final margin.
The Panthers ended the season with a 10-8 record.
(Editor’s note: Eddie Mowen Jr. contributed to this story)
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.