Staying alive: Blue Jackets move to district finals

KENTON – It’s rare for foul balls to take center stage in an important game.

A foul ball is, by it’s nature, a somewhat forgotten play.

Occasionally, a foul ball will become an out.

But often, a contacted ball that isn’t put in play is forgotten as soon as it lands.

There are, however, exceptions.

n A foul ball is important if it’s flying toward your car as you maneuver down a road horrifyingly close to Kenton’s softball field, or…

n If you coached Tuesday’s Division IV district semifinal between New Riegel and Hardin Northern.

The mentors in the contest – the Blue Jackets’ Jamie Lininger and the Polar Bears’ Jeff Hunt – each talked at length after the game of New Riegel’s ability to extend at-bats by fouling pitches off.

The effect of this was two-fold: It caused Hardin Northern starter Addy Bame to throw a boatload of pitches, and it extended at-bats that eventually morphed into New Riegel baserunners.

And that, as much as anything else, led to an 8-4 New Riegel victory.

“I think Bame is a really nice pitcher, I was really impressed with her,” Lininger said after his team punched its ticket for Friday’s district final here against either Carey or Riverdale. “But I think she threw two games worth of pitches, between all the foul balls we had. We had some really good at-bats.”

Hunt also made note of that.

“New Riegel did a really good job, I thought, of fouling off two-strike pitches, and battling up there and forcing (Bame) to throw a lot of strikes and a lot of pitches,” he said. “You gotta give them credit for that. I think that’s what quality teams do.”

New Riegel went to work against Bame in the first inning. Morgan Noftz led off the game by reaching first – then taking second – on an error by the the Polar Bears’ shortstop. Taylor Kirian came up and smoked a ball into left field for an RBI single. The throw home allowed Kirian to move up, and she scored by Kara Scherger singled to left.

New Riegel carried that 2-0 advantage into the second, only to see Hardin Northern come right back.

HN’s Leah Rowe led off with a single, and was doubled to third by Brooklyn Watts. Kirian (who was pitching) got the next batter to hit into a fielder’s choice, but Hannah Fisher ripped an RBI single, and a New Riegel error later, the game was tied. Kamryn Dye’s RBI grounder made it 3-2 Polar Bears.

It wasn’t what the Blue Jackets – or their coach – was expecting.

“It kind of shocked me when we hit a little bump there in the second inning,” Lininger said. “They hit the ball hard a couple times, and a couple of plays I’m not sure what we were doing.”

Bame then retired NR in order in the bottom half of the inning.

But in the third, the game flipped.

Still trailing by a run, New Riegel had one out and nobody on when Kirian lifted a fly ball into a swirling wind in right. Hardin Northern’s RF had the ball go off her glove, and Kirian was on first. Taylor Arbogast was then hit by a pitch, putting two on.

Then came the turning point. Scherger tied the game with an RBI double to left center, then Lauren Zoeller drove in two more runs with a double to center.

“That was a big inning for us; we strung some [hits] together,” Lininger said.

The next inning, the Blue Jackets did it again, scoring three more runs to go up 8-3.

All the while, New Riegel taxed Bame with long at-bat after long at-bat.

“I think pitchers get frustrated after a while,” Hunt said. “Thinking, ‘well, I gotta get this girl out,’ and coming up with a pitch to do that, and maybe you try some pitches you really shouldn’t, and go away from your best pitch. It might have had something to do with those innings where we couldn’t get them out.”

Kirian improved to 22-4, while the team moved to 23-4. She struck out two and allowed two earned runs.

Bame fell to 9-5; HN ended its season at 12-7.