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BUCYRUS - The young Springfield softball team could not rise to the occasion against a nasty rise-ball pitcher yesterday as its dream season came to an end.
The Blue Devils (24-5) managed just two hits while striking out 14 times against All-Ohio pitcher Kristie Malinkey, falling 2-0 to LaGrange Keystone in a Division II regional semifinal.
"We just ran into a buzz saw," Blue Devil coach Rob Gwozdz said. "We just couldn't get anything going."
Springfield senior pitcher Gretchen Hubbard (13-3) matched Malinkey's dominance through five innings before Keystone (24-6) broke through for the winning runs in the sixth. Hubbard allowed just one earned run, four hits and struck out four.
"[Malinkey] had a rise that no one could lay off of," Hubbard said. "They're a very good team. They deserve to go on."
Springfield came into the game batting .329 as a team. But the Blue Devils' only offense was Hubbard's single in the first and Christine Zappone's double in the sixth.
Zappone, a freshman, drilled a liner to left-center field with one out. But Springfield's top two hitters, Hubbard and Kelcee Gwozdz, could not bring her home.
"You just don't see Gretchen and Kelcee go down, bang-bang like that," coach Gwozdz said. "It's happened maybe two times all year."
Keystone responded with three hits and two runs in its half of the sixth. The rally started on a tough error on third baseman Randi Hamilton, who was playing in on a bunt and couldn't handle a grounder shot at her. Jessica Burt followed with a triple to plate the winning run.
Hamilton responded with a brilliant defensive play when she fielded a bunt, faked a throw to first and threw Burt out going back to third. The play was disputed by Keystone coach Jim Piazza, resulting in a 10-minute conversation among the umpires.
"That was a trick play we had designed and it worked to a tee," said Gwozdz, who pointed out that Hubbard was not allowed to throw during the dispute. "She sold it great. The shortstop covered and everything was awesome."
Hubbard then gave up back-to-back singles to load the bases and walked home another run.
Keystone, which has played in the D-II state title game three straight years, will play in the regional final on Saturday.
Malinkey, a two-time, first-team all-state pitcher, improved to 17-3 this season.
Gwozdz said he brought in two college pitchers who throw rise balls to prepare his team. The Blue Devils practiced against Laura Soldner and Jen Woods, both former NLL pitchers.
"We brought those kids in to see some rise balls and stuff. We looked pretty good on Monday and Tuesday. We just couldn't get anything going today," Gwozdz said.
Piazza said Springfield has "an exceptional team."
"They are young and they're going to be here a lot," he said. "This team is going to be very, very dangerous in the next couple of years."
The last time Springfield reached the regional tournament was 1983. The Blue Devils also won their first league title in 18 years.
"This season has been a dream," Gwozdz said "Our No. 1 goal when we broke camp was to win the league championship. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake."
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