OLD FORT - There are several different roads you can take to leave Old Fort. But, for the Hopewell-Loudon softball team, it has seemed like there was no way out. It has always been the end of the road.
The past three seasons, the Chieftains have seen their tournament run come to an end in a sectional final in Old Fort.
Not this year.
Timely hitting, smart base running and clutch pitching from Aubrey Affholder finally got Hopewell-Loudon out of Old Fort, as the Chieftains won a Division IV sectional title, beating St. Wendelin 6-1.
They move on to play in the district semifinals Tuesday against Sandusky St. Mary in Fostoria.
For the Chieftain seniors, it was a great feeling to finally get to districts. Affholder was in the circle last year in the sectional final when Lakota rallied past Hopewell-Loudon in the seventh inning. This year she was determined to get her team to districts.
"It feels great. I've been waiting for it all four years," she said. "I lost it the very last inning last year, and I finally won this year, senior year. It couldn't feel any better."
Affholder scattered nine hits and allowed just one run while striking out six.
"She's been solid on the mound," Hopewell-Loudon coach Sarah Haynes said. "She knows where to place it. The girls feel comfortable with her out there. It was good to have her out there today. ... She's a champ."
For Lauren Trumpler, Thursday's win came with an added bonus.
"It feels great. It's senior year and we know we can go far," she said. "We have never been farther than the baseball team, so that's really what's pushing us this year."
Trumpler got things going for Hopewell-Loudon in the first inning with a leadoff single. She later came around to score on a St. Wendelin throwing error. The Chieftains tacked on two more in the first when Shelbi Sauber singled home Kelsey Coppus and Makayla Wilson scored off a passed ball.
Base running proved to be crucial in Hopewell-Loudon's win. Haynes said it's been a point of emphasis as the season has moved on, and it showed Thursday.
"One of the things we've worked really hard on in the late part of the season has been taking bases if they're there, and taking chances," she said. "If they're aggressive mistakes, we've been OK with those. As long as they saw something that they thought they can move, we want them to be moving and put the pressure on the defense. And they are doing a really good job with that."
After St. Wendelin cut the lead to 3-1, the Chieftains got that run back without the benefit of a hit in the fifth inning. Trumpler opened the inning by reaching on an error and Coppus walked. Affholder flied out to right to move Trumpler to third. When the throw came into third base, Coppus took off for second, drawing a throw. Coppus was safe and Trumpler took off for home, sliding in safely for a 4-1 lead.
"We know what they're going to do with the ball before they know what they're going to do with the ball sometimes," Trumpler said. "So we know when we can take extra bases."
But while Hopewell-Loudon was scoring without getting hits, the opposite held true for St. Wendelin. The Mohawks got hits, but could not around to score.
"At one point we were leading them in hits 8-4, but we were down 4-1," St. Wendelin coach Theresa Webb said. "We got them on, there's no doubt about that, and even on with less than two outs, but unfortunately we just never got that hit to bring in one, two runs and keep rolling. But we hit, just not at the right time, unfortunately."
St. Wendelin loaded the bases in the fourth, and was able to get a run across on Sammie Digby's RBI single, but couldn't do any more damage, leaving the bases loaded. The Mohawks loaded them up again in the sixth after three singles, but Affholder got two fly outs to center without any runs scoring.
"I just knew that my defense had my back and we would get through it, no matter what happened," Affholder said.
Just to make sure there was no late comeback this year, the Chieftains tacked on two more in the sixth. Abby Park and Kassie Welly each singled, then Trumpler drove them both in to provide some insurance.
After the title was won, and celebratory pictures were taken, Haynes summed everything up succinctly: "It's nice to get out of Old Fort."