BUCYRUS, Ohio — On the big stage, Maumee came out tight and dug a hole the Panthers could not extricate themselves from Saturday.
Maumee was one of just eight teams left playing in the Division II tournament. But the upstart Panthers yielded seven runs to Lima Bath in the first two innings of a D-II softball regional final and ultimately fell 12-3 at Bucyrus High School.
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The Panthers (19-10) had nine hits, but starting pitcher Sam Fowls struggled with her control, and the Wildcats took full advantage.
Lima Bath (27-1), ranked No. 4 in the state, finished with 10 hits. But three Panther pitchers combined to walk seven batters and hit two others.
“The pressure got to them,” Maumee coach Shawn Watson said. “Today we just struggled to start off the game. We got out of rhythm. We didn't play our kind of ball.”
Fowls, who was dominant in Maumee's 4-1 upset of powerhouse LaGrange Keystone in the regional semifinal on Thursday, walked the first four batters. She threw 20 pitches to start the game, and 16 were balls.
Evyn Kachenmeister relieved Fowls, who did not record an out in the first inning. Lima Bath scored five runs on just one hit to take a 5-0 lead.
“I was pretty nervous. I was hoping I could do it for us,” Fowls said. “I think a lot of people expected us to lose [to Keystone], so we just wanted to prove everyone wrong. Today we expected to win, and we got too ahead of ourselves. We didn't play as well as we should have. It kind of went downhill today.”
Maumee made it 5-1 in the bottom of the inning when Fowls, who singled, scored on Salwa Al-Hajabed's double.
But the Wildcats added two more in the second inning. Fowls, who was reinserted on the mound, walked two.
“Sammy got into her own head, which happens. It's a big game,” Watson said. “She put too much pressure on herself. She thought she had to do everything. You have to trust your team.”
Kachenmeister came back into the circle and struck out two batters. But the Wildcats also got a two-run single to go up 7-1.
Maumee bounced back with another run in the bottom of the inning on Kachenmeister's RBI single.
However, Lima Bath added single runs in the fourth and fifth off of freshman relief pitcher Kiara Hurley.
Maumee freshman Kayla Wulf tripled in the sixth and then scored on senior Janie Hudson's RBI single to make it 9-3.
But the Wildcats then erupted for three more runs in the seventh inning for a 12-3 cushion.
All nine players in the Maumee batting order reached base, and seven had hits. Kachenmeister and Alex Perkins each had two hits.
Lima Bath pitcher Kimmy Reynolds threw a complete game and stuck out six. The Wildcats, who had all nine batters reach base, advanced to the final four for the fourth time and first since 2004.
“That really helped in the first inning to let us settle in,” Lima Bath coach Hannah Slavin said. “We knew Maumee was a good team and could score runs with big hits. So that gave us some relaxation. One through nine we talked about putting the ball in play and putting pressure on.”
Fowls was erratic to start the game, missing high and hitting the backstop several times. She walked the bases loaded and then walked in the first run.
“Sam has carried us,” Watson said. “We've always jumped on Sammy's back. Today we just came up short. But she had a great season and career.”
Kachenmeister then hit the first batter she faced to drive in the second run, and a sac fly made it 3-0. The sophomore was one strike away from getting out of the jam with her team down just three runs, but a bloop single scored two more and made it 5-0 before Maumee had even batted.
The young Panthers had four sophomores and three freshmen who saw action in the regional final.
Maumee reached the regional final for the first time since 2001, when it made back-to-back appearances. The Panthers will lose three seniors. Fowls and shortstop Emily Young will play at Owens Community College.
“It's been a great year,” Watson said. “I can't say enough about my team. I have five seniors. They've been the backbone of this team. They are quality kids. We have an incredible future too.”