Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
PICKERINGTON — With their season on life support, the Peebles Indians simply wouldn’t stop fighting for one last breath.
After digging an 8-1 hole early in a Division IV regional semifinal contest against undefeated and state-ranked Notre Dame, Peebles (13-12) mounted an improbable comeback attempt and rode the momentum to an improbable 10-9 win in nine innings at Pickerington Central High School.
It wasn’t expected, it wasn’t predicted, and it was nearly impossible after a slow start. But it happened.
“I’m super proud of these girls. The way we ended the season, we ended on a slide,” Peebles coach Doug McFarland said. “But they battled back. If you ask anybody, this isn’t a team they thought would get here. But they stick with it, they persevere, they don’t give up and they keep battling.”
Indians pitcher Lanie Johnston embodied that statement on Wednesday. The junior surrendered eight runs in the first four innings but turned the tides afterwards, giving up a single score in her final five frames of work.
She was an enigma for Titans hitter in the later innings and anchored in when her team needed her most.
“Our team likes to get down. It’s our specialty,” Johnston said, jokingly. “Our whole team, we make mistakes and we get down. But when we lift each other up, we’re pretty much unstoppable. We’re 13-12 and [Notre Dame] is undefeated so we can do anything.”
Notre Dame (23-1) put three runs on the board in the first inning. Annie Dettwiller and Ava Hassel scored on a play that included both a passed ball and a fielding error before Gwen Sparks logged an RBI single for a 3-0 lead.
Kaylor Pickleseimer then gave the Titans a 4-0 advantage, knocking in Isabel Cassidy with an RBI single in the second.
In the third, Notre Dame continued to play add-on when Maddy Suter and Annie Dettwiller both logged RBI singles to give their dugout a 6-0 lead after three complete innings.
In the fourth, Peebles’ Marisa Moore singled, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a fielding error to get the Indians on the board. However, Notre Dame’s Kyndall Ford had an answer in the bottom half of the frame, depositing a two-run home run over the left field fence to push the advantage to 8-1.
But that’s when the tides began to turn.
In the top of the fifth, Peebles’ Caydence Carroll logged a two-run single before Kyndell Lloyd drew a bases loaded walk. That sequence was followed by a two-run single off the bat of Avery Storer, cutting the once seven-run deficit to 8-6.
And, all of the sudden, momentum had traded dugouts.
“At first, it was a struggle. We practiced [hitting against] the speed,” Moore said. “We had our old pitcher, Madison Pierce, come in and [mimic Notre Dame pitcher Gwen Sparks’ speed] with us. So when we got here, she [pitched] a little bit faster. But as we got going, in our third at-bat, we really struck her pretty good.”
With the bases loaded, still in the top of the fifth inning, Darby Mills stepped to the plate and officially completed the rally with a three-run double that gave the Indians their first lead of the night at 9-8.
Sparks then worked her way out of the jam but well after the damage was done.
It wasn’t a complete lost cause for Notre Dame, however, at that point. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Suter tied the game with an RBI single — which ultimately pushed the contest into extra innings.
But after trading at-bats, the Indians delivered the knockout blow in the top of the ninth. Moore once again reached base before stealing second and moving to third. That gave way for Lloyd to provide the dagger, lacing an RBI single into the left field green.
Johnston then allowed the Titans’ first hitter to reach base in the bottom half but immediately induced a groundout and a pair of pop-outs to seal the deal.
“Early on, we chased stuff at that plate,” McFarland said. “Once we did, [Sparks] left it up there. So I told our girls after the third innings, I said, ‘Listen, we have to get balls in our zone and hitting them.’ We started waiting, making her work a little more and it paid off. We had some real nice bunts put down and we had nice defensive plays as well.”
Moore jumpstarted Peebles’ offense, finishing 3-for-5 with a double, two stolen bases and three runs while Mills was 2-for-4 with a double, a run and three RBIs. Storer was 1-for-5 with two RBIs, Lloyd was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs and Carroll finished 1-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Sparks went the distance for the Titans, surrendering eight earned runs on nine hits and four walks. She whiffed 16.
At the dish, Hassel led the Titans with a 3-for-5 outing alongside a run scored. Ford was 2-for-3 with a home run, a walk, two runs scored and two RBIs while Suter went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI. Pickleseimer, Dettwiller, Sparks and Madison Brown also logged an RBI each.
Peebles will now face Newark Catholic, an 11-10 winner over Danville, in a Division IV regional final at noon, Saturday. The Indians will be traveling back to Pickerington Central.
The win marks the second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight for Peebles’ softball program. There are still five members from that regional title team on the roster. Their previous experience will be a huge plus moving forward.
“I think the five that were there, you could see they weren’t nervous tonight,” McFarland said. “They handled it well and they did a good job with the young kids, talking with and helping them through it. That was big. Hopefully, it pays off for us again on Saturday. Being here before and being on this field was a big plus for us. The kids are comfortable here.”