SOUTH HEART - With her team down 4-2 and down to its final two outs, Heart River senior McKenzie Buckman stepped up to the plate with a runner on first.
She had previously singled twice and walked, so she knew what to expect from Central McLean starting pitcher Sophie Sparrow.
On the fourth pitch of her at bat, she sent the ball sailing into left-center field, where it flew over the fence for a two-run home run, tying the game at four. The homer was Buckman's first ever.
"The past couple pitches she had pitched were balls ... and coach told me to take it until she gives me a strike," Buckman recalled. "Well, she gave me a strike and then it was go time. Not saying my other teammates couldn't get it, but we needed a hit then. At that point, it was just get a hit and move somebody."
With the game tied, freshman Meg Silbernagel struck out, freshman Taylar Fagerberg doubled, sophomore Jersey Filkowski singled, and Fagerberg ran home on a wild pitch, sealing the 5-4 walk-off win on Thursday, April 25, at Adamski Park.
Ahead of Buckman's big at-bat, Heart River head coach Kendra Schillo put sophomore Sienna Froehlich in the lineup. The inexperienced underclassman eagerly swung at the first pitch, but exhibited patience from there, laying off a 3-2 pitch to walk, setting up the two-run bomb.
"Sienna Froehlich, she's a sophomore and playing for the first time this year," Schillo said. "She's worked really hard, so I put her in to pinch hit and that was a huge walk. I told the girls the home run means nothing if she doesn't take a walk there. On a 3-2 count, that's a big position to put her in in the bottom of the seventh, but she came through."
Actually, the seventh-inning surge started at the top of the inning, as Heart River pitcher Abby Kessel struck out the side, bringing her total to 12 K's on the day. Earlier Kessel had walked two batters, and a few wild pitches allowed runners to advance, but she ended the complete game with just 14 pitches in the seventh.
"She really didn't have her best stuff today," Schillo said. "They talk about gutting out a win and that's what she did. She was as hittable as I've seen her and they got some really good swings off of her, but in the seventh inning, she dug deep."
Until the final frame, Central McLean proved to be the better pack of Cougars, executing on defense, including two inning-ending double plays.
In the bottom of the fifth, Silbernagel lined out to Fischer at shortstop, who proceeded to throw to first to beat Buckman back to the bag for the final out. The outfield also made some impressive snags, tracking down balls during an absurdly windy contest.
At the plate, sophomore Kaia Anderson led with two hits, one being a double.
"Heart River is one of the top teams in the sub-region, if not the region and state," Central McLean head coach Zach Siewert said. "It showed us that if we come and play our A-game, we can play with anyone."
Meanwhile, Heart River (8-0) was sluggish in the infield and committed five errors over six frames, aiding in the visitors effort.
In the fourth, Central McLean (3-3) junior Miya Smalls reached on an error by Kessel, and Sparrow doubled to score Smalls. Next, Sydney Fischer singled on a line drive past third, scoring Sparrow to put the girls in orange up 3-2.
With two outs in the fifth, an error by Buckman at second allowed Central McLean junior Kasidee Maxwell to reach and plate Anderson, rather than ending the inning with a routine 4-3 putout.
"The mistakes today were pretty crucial going into the seventh inning," Buckman admitted. "We didn't get many hits, we had errors. It came down to the other team having some really good plays in the outfield and the infield."
Heart River 5, Central McLean 4
CM 001 210 0 - 4 4 3
HR 101 000 3 - 5 6 5
Sophie Sparrow and Daisy Sparrow. Abby Kessel and Mattea Binstock.
W-Kessel. L-Sparrow. HR-HR, McKenzie Buckman.
Highlights: CM, Kaia Anderson 2-4, 2B, RBI; S. Sparrow 2-4, 2B, RBI, 7 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 K, 2 BB. HR, Buckman 3-3, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R; Jersey Filkowski 2-3, RBI; Taylar Fagerberg 1-4, 2B; Kessel 2-3, 7 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 12 K, 2 BB.