For the second year in a row, the Charlestown softball team stayed even with South Dearborn for a good portion of the Class 3A regional on Tuesday night at South Dearborn High School.
For the second straight year, the Pirates got shut out by Knights’ ace pitcher Kooper Vertz and came up short of winning their first regional championship since 1997.
Vertz tossed a two-hitter to lead Class 3A No. 1 South Dearborn to a 5-0 victory over Charlestown. The Knights (26-1) will play either fourth-ranked Gibson Southern or Heritage Hills in the first semifinal of the Class 3A Brown County Semistate on Saturday.
Vertz (23-1), who entered the regional with a 1.17 ERA, struck out seven and walked one. Pirates’ head coach Kevin Zollman said the senior right-hander was just as tough as she was in South Dearborn’s 4-0 regional win at Charlestown last season.
“She’s probably the best pitcher we’ve seen all year,” Zollman said. “She’s got good velocity. She throws a lot of good junk and my girls just have a hard time catching up with it sometimes. We don’t see a pitcher like that in our area.”
The Pirates (19-11) got a huge break in the bottom of the first inning. With two out and the bases loaded, Knights’ senior Ashleigh Largent hit a ball between first and second base off Charlestown starter Carly Price. South Dearborn pinch-runner Samantha Bell got hit by the ball while running to second, resulting in the umpires calling her out. That prevented the Knights from at least taking a 1-0 lead.
“That was a mistake on their part. They’re a senior-laden team, but they shouldn’t have ran into the ball like that and run themselves out of an inning,” Zollman said. “I was proud of the way of the girls played the whole game. We battled the whole game.”
Sophomore second baseman Lexi Logsdon got Charlestown’s first hit off Vertz, smacking a two-out double to left field. But the Pirates left Logsdon stranded at second when South Dearborn right fielder Heavenlee Wilson caught a Price pop fly in foul territory near the fence on the first-base side.
The Knights mounted another scoring threat in the bottom of the third. Wilson led off the inning with a bloop single to left. She advanced to second on a groundout and then stole third.
Pirates’ third baseman Bethany Hall made an unbelievable backhand catch on a line drive by Morgan Wolfer to prevent Wilson from scoring. Price ended the frame by forcing Vertz to ground out to third.
Zollman felt pretty good about where his team was at in the game after Hall’s great snag.
“I felt like we were still in it,” Zollman said.
South Dearborn left another runner stranded in scoring position in the fourth. With two out, Knights’ senior Jessica Benton reached third on a single and a two-base error. But South Dearborn came up empty again when Hannah Rose grounded out to first.
The Knights decided to switch their strategy in the bottom of the fifth by playing some small ball.
The tactical change got them going.
Sophomore Tara Bailey and Wilson started the inning with back-to-back singles. After Ellen Barrett hit a grounder to second to move the runners up a base, Wolfer laid down a suicide squeeze that went back to Price. The Pirates’ sophomore right-hander tried to throw the ball backhanded to catcher McKenzie Smith at home plate, but Bailey slid under Smith’s tag to put South Dearborn up 1-0.
Vertz followed with an RBI single to score Wilson to increase the Knights’ lead to 2-0. With runners at second and third, Largent put down another South Dearborn squeeze. Price tipped the ball off her glove, allowing Wolfer to score and make the score 3-0.
Junior Delaney Murphy continued the Knights’ series of squeeze bunts. Her squeeze got her tagged out by Charlestown first baseman Sarah Willinger, but it knocked in Bell from third. Benton — the next batter — concluded the scoring with a base hit to center to plate Largent to put South Dearborn up five runs.
In the inning, the Knights collected four hits and took advantage of a pair of Pirate errors.
“In the fifth inning, we made a few mental mistakes and a couple of errors and they hit the ball a couple of times,” Zollman said. “But they relied on small ball. For a team supposed to be ranked No. 1, I really felt like my team played toe-to-toe with them.”
Smith got Charlestown’s second hit in the top of the sixth by hitting a deep triple off Vertz to start the frame. But after Logsdon grounded to third, South Dearborn completed a double play by throwing out Smith at home while she attempted to score. Following that, Vertz sewed up the regional title by retiring the final four Charlestown batters.
Price went the distance as her record dropped to 16-10. Of the five runs she yielded, only two were earned. She surrendered nine hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
“Carly did outstanding,” Zollman said. “With them reverting to small ball, it tells me that she was doing her job. They didn’t have confidence they can hit her.”
Charlestown only loses one senior in leftfielder Cassie Martin. With almost his entire team back, Zollman is optimistic about the Pirates’ future.
“We start mainly freshmen and sophomores along with two juniors and a senior,” said Zollman, who credited his coaching staff in John Smith, Dana Miller, Darrell Adams and Jeff Webster for helping the Pirates reach the regional. “We’ve got a lot of talented girls coming back and hopefully some good freshmen coming in.”
Wilson wound up 3-for-3, while Bailey finished 2-for-4.
CLASS 3A REGIONAL
SOUTH DEARBORN 5, CHARLESTOWN 0
Charlestown 000 000 0—0 2 4
S. Dearborn 000 050 x—5 9 1
W — Kooper Vertz (23-1). L — Carly Price (16-10). 2B — Lexi Logsdon (C). 3B — McKenzie Smith (C).
Records — Charlestown 19-11, South Dearborn 26-1.