LANARK – The last 2 years, the Milledgeville Missiles have made runs to the Class 1A state softball tournament because of several factors – not the least of which was taking advantage of opportunities their opponents presented them with.
But the defending 1A state champions got a taste of their own medicine Tuesday afternoon in the semifinals of the Eastland Regional.
The Newman Comets made Missile mental and physical miscues hurt in a 6-5 victory in Lanark.
"They did what we've been doing the last 2 years," Milledgeville senior Courtney Swalve said. "It felt like they had the answer for every mistake we made, and they took advantage of everything we gave them."
Whether it was taking an extra base – the Comets did that five times in the first three innings – or finding the gaps in the Missiles defense thanks to some perfectly-placed hits, Newman (14-11) put the pressure on Milledgeville (20-7) throughout the game, and responded better in nearly every situation.
"We put up a great fight today, and it was an all-around game," Newman junior Julie Hurd said. "Our outfield made some nice plays, our infield got the job done, and both our pitchers threw strikes. We also hit the ball well, and hit it in a lot of places where they weren't."
Facing a 2-0 deficit before their first at-bat, the Comets took the momentum back quickly. Hurd stole home on a bases-loaded pickoff attempt at second in the first inning, then Newman took its first lead on Hurd's two-out, two-run triple to left in the second.
Tied 3-3 in the bottom of the third, the Comets sent nine hitters to the plate and got an RBI single from Lakyn Waldschmidt and a run-scoring fielder's choice from Sam Miller before Hurd drew a bases-loaded walk.
"The intangibles are what won us this game," Newman coach JD Waldschmidt said. "We took advantage of every opportunity laid out in front of us, and that's an area we've seen tremendous improvement in throughout the season."
But the Missiles weren't about to go down without a fight. Swalve and Kayleigh Leddy had RBI singles in the first inning, then Swalve scored on a two-out error in the second.
After Newman got out of a potential trouble spot with an inning-ending double play on a popout in the fifth, Milledgeville got to within 6-5 on Holly Brall's two-run single in the sixth to plate Morgan Adolph and Leddy.
"At that point, I thought we were going to come back," Swalve said. "Holly gave us life, and I had faith that we were going to get it done. It just didn't happen in the seventh inning."
With the top of the order up with one out in the seventh, Newman reliever Sam Miller never let the Missiles get going. She got a weak roller to first and a strikeout to end the game with a 1-2-3 inning – the third such frame of the game, and fourth time Milledgeville managed to send just three hitters to the plate in an inning.
"It was big for us to score early, especially after they scored right away," Hurd said. "We got the momentum back from them in the third inning, and we didn't want to give it back to them. We kept the intensity up, our attitudes stayed positive all game, and we stuck together and got the win."
Waldschmidt (11-5) gave up a three runs (two earned) and three hits in the start, striking out one and walking one in four innings. Miller came on in the fifth and allowed two earned runs and three hits, striking out five and walking one for a three-inning save.
"Newman's got two good pitchers, and they were smart to change them before our third time through the order," Milledgeville coach Brad Grenoble said. "It really kept us off-balance. I like the spot we were in with the top of our order coming up in the seventh – I'll take that a million times – and we just couldn't get that timely hit to start a rally. Hats off to Newman; they were better than us today."
Adolph (14-5) struck out five and walked five in six innings, giving up six earned runs and six hits. She settled in after the rough start, stranding three Comets on base in the three-run third and allowing just two baserunners the rest of the way.
Class 1A Eastland Regional semifinal
Newman 6, Milledgeville 5
Star of the game: Julie Hurd, Newman, 3B, 3 RBIs, run scored
Key performers: Lakyn Waldschmidt & Sam Miller, Newman, combined for 4 ER, 6 H, 6 SO, 2 BB; Courtney Swalve & Kayleigh Leddy, M'ville, each had 2 hits, RBI
Up next: 1A Eastland Regional final, Newman vs. Amboy/Fulton, 11 a.m. Saturday