CLYDE — Clay’s hopes of reaching the state softball tournament for the first time were dashed in a Division I regional semifinal Wednesday night.
Part of the fifth-ranked Eagles’ loss could be attributed to an old nemesis, as perennial state-power Elyria rallied from a 6-2 deficit to take an 8-6 victory in eight innings.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view more photos
Clay had lost to the Pioneers by 4-1 scores in regional finals here in 2009, and again last year.
The rest of the Eagles’ exit was linked to third base umpire Kelly Dine, who made five illegal-pitch calls in the game on Clay senior ace Brooke Gallaher.
The first three had little impact, as Elyria batters were simply awarded balls in the count. The last two were pivotal in the game’s outcome.
“She hadn’t been called for an illegal pitch yet this year, and there were more today than she’s had in her four years of pitching varsity at Clay,” Eagles coach Brenda Radabaugh said of Gallaher. “That’s just a tough way to go. That’s not how I expected things to end.
“I’ll watch it on TV. Maybe [Gallaher] was leaping, and maybe she wasn’t. I don’t know. That umpire was seeing something that we weren’t seeing.”
For a legal delivery, the pitcher’s foot that pushes off the rubber has to remain on the ground until the ball is released. If that push-off foot is raised off the ground before release, an illegal pitch can be called, a ball is added to the count, and any baserunners advance one base.
Clay (28-3) had just batted around in rallying for five runs on four hits to take a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Gallaher had allowed just two hits and two walks through five innings. Then came a Pioneers four-run rally in the top of the sixth.
Elyria’s Mackenzie Phares singled, Gallaher walked pitcher Elizabeth Ellis, and Carly Bachna’s single loaded the bases. Kaitlyn Laseke delivered a two-run single to right, and took second when Clay tried to get Bachna at third.
With Alex Dick batting, an illegal-pitch call sent Bachna home to make it 6-5, and sent Laseke to third. Laseke scored on a one-out groundout, a run that would not have scored had Laseke still been at second base.
Clay missed a chance to win, stranding Haley Dominique (2-for-3), who had ripped a one-out double to left in the seventh.
In the top of the eighth, Ellis singled, Bachna hit into a fielder’s choice, and Laseke doubled to put runners at second and third. Dick followed with an apparent flyout to Clay left fielder Dominique, not deep enough for Bachna to tag and score.
But another illegal pitch call sent Bachna home with the go-ahead run, sent Laseke to third, and put Dick back to the plate. Kelsey Plato later added a two-out RBI single for the 8-6 lead.
“She was definitely coming off the rubber, planting, and then pitching,” said Elyria coach Ken Fenik of Gallaher. “She wasn’t dragging her back foot. That’s why the umpires need to call it before it gets to this point in the regionals. [Pitchers] think they’re doing everything right, and then they don’t have any time to work on it.
“Clay is a great team. They hit the snot out of the ball, they play great defense, and Gallaher is tough. I feel real fortunate to get that win. It was a great team win.”
Clay took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Baleigh Bocook’s single drove home Honnah Susor.
Elyria (22-7) took a 2-1 lead in the third, when Dierra Hammons walked, Madison Fullmer followed with an RBI double, and Ellis added a two-out, RBI single.
“It’s hard,” said Susor, Clay’s four-year standout and team leader. “We came into this game really confident in ourselves and we had been hitting the ball really well. We just weren’t hitting gaps today, we were hitting right to them.
“I was really upset, obviously. I’ve never seen that many illegal calls in one game.”