By Gary R. Rasberry
LIMA -- For the latter half of the softball season, Parkway seemed to always find the way to be on the better half of the scoreboard at the end of games.
On Thursday, it looked like that magic would get another chance as defensive plays and a fourth-inning rally kept Parkway within a run.
Archbold, on the otherhand, had some magic of its own, making the defensive plays needed to end the Panthers' tournament run with a 5-3 win at Bath High School in the Division III district final.
The Blue Streaks (21-7) now head to Wright State University for the regional semifinals Thursday at 4:30 p.m. against the winner of the Arcanum-Middletown Fenwick game to be played on Saturday. Parkway falls to 20-6.
The loss for the Panthers wrapped up a 24-hour span where they had to go extra innings to beat Coldwater on Wednesday. Parkway coach Mark Esselstein did not use the quick turnaround as an excuse. "There's a lot of teams in the same boat," said Esselstein. "Regular season, you play back-to-back days. If we would have made all the plays on defense, we would have been in there. That's not an excuse. It would be nice to be able to avoid that at this stage, but that's the way it is."
Errors hurt the Panthers early as only one of the runs Archbold scored were earned. The middle infield of Parkway made five errors in the game as the Blue Streaks scored three times in the top of the first and added another run in the third.
Then the Parkway magic picked up as in the second and third innings the Panthers made two plays at the plate to deny more runs and end innings in the process.
In the second, with Kendra Stahl at second, Britt Sevey singled to right. Brittany Young came up throwing for the Panthers and fired a laser to Jayme Marbaugh behind the plate, who tagged Stahl for the out.
In the third, Keri Badenhop was on second as Cassie Steinbrunner pitched to Alexa Kennedy. Kennedy fouled off six straight pitched before blooping one over the head of Erica Yoder at short for a single. Badenhop came around third and headed home, but Erica Yoder got the ball and fired to a waiting Marbaugh for the tag and the third out.
"We held them to three for a long time, then they got the fourth but we didn't hang our heads," said Esselstein. "We kept coming back and gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We made some plays to keep us in the game until our offense kicked in. We put pressure on them."
The play sparked the Panthers on defense and offense as Steinbrunner retired the next seven batters to give the offense time to heat up.
Parkway got in the game in the third. Brittany Young led off by beating out an infield hit and Jana Suman followed with a clean single to put runners of first and second. After Stahl struck out Marbaugh, Hillary Frank came up with a single to score Young. After Tiff Steinbrunner struck out and Cassie Steinbrunner walked, Ashley Nuttle grounded a shot that was misplayed by Badenhop at third, allowing Suman and pinch-runner Ashley Gamble to score and cut the lead to 4-3.
Just as the momentum steered Parkway's way, though, Archbold pulled the wheel back its way in the sixth. After Kara Buehrer grounded out, Badenhop walked and Kennedy singled to put two on. Chelsea Wyse popped out to short to bring up Molly Grime. Grime grounded up the middle, but Amanda Jutte's attempt to grab the ball for the force was booted, leaving all baserunners safe. Stahl stepped up and grounded to Yoder, who could not play the ball, allowing Badenhop to score the insurance run.
"We definitely had the momentum there for awhile," said Esselstein. "We just needed one more hit to keep it rolling. We got them out in quick order after scoring the three but we couldn't get that next run."
"First of all, I want to give Parkway a lot of credit," said Archbold coach Joe Frank. "When they were down 4-0 and things weren't going too well for them, they made two great plays at the plate. Their coach does a great job and it's a great program. We knew it was going to be a dogfight coming in
Although the Panthers are done with the tournament, there is still a share of the Midwest Athletic Conference title to play for. Parkway plays Minster on Tuesday to wrap up the conference slate. A win would allow the Panthers to join New Bremen and Fort Recovery at 5-2 and tri-champions.
"We're not done," said Esselstein. "We can still win a MAC championship. We're likely going to play on Tuesday for the title and win number 21. Unlike most seasons, we still have something to play for after this game."