By Randy Bruns
HUBER HEIGHTS -- All year long the Marion Local Flyers have made a habit of finding themselves in closely contested softball games.
Why then should things change just because the Blue and Gold has advanced to regional competition?
They shouldn't, and they haven't.
The Flyers scratched out an early lead and thwarted three key rallies by the West Liberty-Salem Tigers to come away with a 2-1 nailbiter Friday at Wayne High School.
Marion returns to Wayne today to face Covington at 1 p.m. for a berth in next week's state tournament at Ashland. The Flyers got their bats going early as the dented the scoreboard in the second inning. Pitcher Dana Hartings laced a single to left and advanced to second on Jennifer Rose's sacrifice bunt. After a strikeout, Lindsay Dippold lofted a fly to right that landed just fair for a run-scoring double.
Things looked even better for Marion when a Salem error led to another run in the third. Leading off, Sarah Moeller was hit by a pitch and stole second, but it appeared she would be stranded when the next two batters made outs and Megan Homan grounded to short. The throw to first was low and skidded to the fence, however, and Moeller never stopped running until she crossed home plate.
The Tigers threatened in their half of the third when Libby Mescher singled and stood on third with no outs after a wild pitch and a stolen base. Hartings buckled down on the mound, though, and retired the next three batters in order to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard.
The shutout wouldn't last long, however, as a wild fifth inning ensued. After a double by pitcher Ally Crawford, a Flyer error put runners on second and third with no outs. Hartings then uncorked a wild pitch, and when the ball bounced back to the screen, catcher Megan Homan tried to shovel the ball to a covering Hartings at the plate. The throw was perfect, but it hit the Tigers' on-deck batter, who was standing near the batter's box.
After some consultation between the umpires, the run was allowed to stand, much to the consternation of the Marion fans.
Mescher then bunted to third baseman Kelly Pleiman, who threw home to nail the lead runner. Later, with Mescher on third and two outs, Pleiman fielded another grounder and again threw home where Homan applied the tag to end the inning.
The Tigers looked to make one final rally in the seventh Jess Yocum led off with a single. Mescher then attempted to sacrifice her over, but popped the bunt in front of the plate. Homan then made the save of the game when she snared the ball before it hit the ground and fired to Dippold at first for a double play. After a Flyer error, Hartings rung up the next batter to keep the Flyers' season alive.
"It was just basic instinct," said Homan of the decisive play. "I caught the ball and threw to first. It happened so fast nothing was really going through my mind."
"That was probably the defensive play of the night," said Marion coach Gary Moeder. "They got a girl on first and we knew they were going to bunt to get her in scoring position. She just got underneath the ball and Megan was aware of what was going on and made a great play."
Although the Flyers struck out nine times in the game, Moeder was glad to see them put the bat on the ball when it counted.
"We've talked about it all year, all you've got to do is put the ball in play" said Moeder. "Every team's going to make an error sometimes, and if it happens at the right time you've got to take advantage of it. Fortunately for us it worked out in our favor."
Hartings had another sterling outing on the mound, allowing just three hits and registering 11 punchouts.
"Dana understands that from here on out every strikeout that she gets is going to be well-earned," said Moeder. "Covington is a very good hitting team, so she's definitely going to have to earn them tomorrow. Our defense has been pretty good, and Dana trusts the girls behind her."