By Gary R. Rasberry
COLDWATER -- Thursday night brought in a unique situation for both Parkway and Coldwater as the teams wrapped up their Midwest Athletic Conference seasons.
Both teams play each other on Tuesday in the Division III district semifinals at Elida, where each team got a good look at each other on Thursday.
For Parkway, it was a must-win game if the Panthers wanted to stay alive in the race for a second straight share of the MAC title.
The Panthers went to their ace Tiff Steinbrunner to get the win and at least a share of the title, pending the outcome with Fort Recovery's game with Versailles.
Cavalier coach Jack Mescher went with sophomore Brooke Gross, saving back ace Amber Heyne for the tournament game. The way Gross pitched, Mescher might have to entertain thoughts of starting the sophomore next week.
Gross scattered seven hits over seven innings, but did not walk a batter as the Cavaliers scored all its runs in the third to get a 4-1 win over the Panthers at Cavalier Softball Diamond.
The other shoe dropped for the Panthers as Fort Recovery beat Versailles, 7-3, to capture the school's first outright MAC crown. Parkway ends the MAC season 5-2 and goes to 15-7 overall. Coldwater is 4-3 in the MAC and 14-8 overall going into Tuesday's game at Elida.
Coldwater ran itself out of scoring opportunities in the first two innings. Renee Hemmelgarn was thrown out trying for third, Panther backstop Jayme Marbaugh threw out Tasha Stucke in the first inning and Ashley Lefeld was thrown out at home in the second.
It was just the third inning that hurt the Panthers. Steinbrunner allowed just six hits in the game, three of those coming in the third.
"The big difference was (Coldwater) put their hits together," said Parkway coach Mark Esselstein. "Ours were spread out. We got them one at a time. We had runners on every inning but didn't get the key hits at the right time."
Katie Welsch started the inning by walking and moved to second on Hemmelgarn's single. Stucke laid down the bunt, but Steinbrunner threw to a waiting Ashley Gamble at third to force out Welsch. Betsy Homan followed with a dribbler that no one could get to for any outs, loading the bases for Danielle Goubeaux.
Goubeaux, the best hitter in the area with a .484 average, singled two runs home to get the scoring underway. Amber Heyne hit one back to Steinbrunner, who forced out Homan for the second out. Lefeld stepped up and laced a shot over Brittany Young in center, clearing the bases and getting Lefeld sliding into third for the rest of the runs.
"We talked to the girls about how hitting is contagious," said Coldwater head coach Jack Mescher. "It was big to get the leadoff runner on. Then Danielle had a big hit to bring two home. That got us going. The girls were pumped up and started yelling more. Ashley comes up with a big triple. I couldn't ask much more from the girls."
After Steinbrunner doubled home Jennifer Murphy -- who reach on an error -- in the top of the fourth, Gross clamped down even harder on Parkway. Gross allowed two hits in the sixth and runners on second and third with one out, but Kristin Roth grounded weakly back to the circle for one out and Steinbrunner grounded to Goubeaux at short, who made the throw to Welsch at first for the third out.
"I'll tell you what, that was a stellar performance," said Mescher. "Not only did she spot the ball well with no walks, which is critical because Parkway bunts and runs so well, she played defense. She had an awful lot of of balls hit back to her. For a sophomore and to put her in a spot like this, she really stepped up."
"Gross threw strikes and let the defense make the plays," said Esselstein. "They made them all. We have to swing the bats a little better and really focus when you have the chance to drive in runs."
The first game of the series went the Cavaliers' way and Mescher and company are champing at the bit for the next game.
"First thing I heard from one of the girls after the game is 'Who's up for round two?,'" said Mescher. "I believe they all were."