The difference in won-loss records was startling. The on-the-field competitive advantage seemed minimal.
Visiting Bedford North Lawrence ran its record to 17-5 on Tuesday with a 4-2 softball victory against Columbus East, which fell to 5-14.
As they have all season, the Olympians played tooth-and-nail with a supposedly superior team, only to fall just a bit short.
However, as Sonny Stahl’s East team tries to get over the proverbial hump, it’s got to find a way to make the key plays.
“It’s going to be mentally,” Stahl said of the push that will take his team to the next level. “Physically, we can play the game. But we make too many mental mistakes.”
East was in good shape with a 2-0 lead after three innings with starting pitcher Hayley Smalley looking very sharp on the mound. However, East’s defensive miscues fueled the Stars’ offense.
Bedford North Lawrence scored a run in the fourth on an infield single by Marissa Watson and took a 3-2 lead in the fifth with the help of two Olympians’ errors.
Smalley should have come out of the inning with no worse than a tie, but suddenly East was down.
Worse yet, the Olympians couldn’t manage a run against Stars pitcher MaKenzie Silvers after the third inning. The Stars picked up an insurance run in the sixth on a triple by Watson and a double by Karissa Salm.
Bedford North Lawrence could have scored more runs, too, but solid pitching in the clutch by Smalley, some excellent defensive work by East middle infielders Erin Tharp and Kiersten Henderson and some heads-up ball by catcher Elyse Babb kept the game close.
It wasn’t long ago that close wouldn’t have been bad for a program wanting to build. Now the Olympians want more.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Tharp, who drove in Henderson with a double to center in the third. “But we have to make less errors and have more offense.”
Although Tharp was being Captain Obvious, her coached noted that, at least on Tuesday, “We should have hit better.”
East appeared to be headed for a big offensive day when Smalley connected on a two-out single in the bottom of the first for a 1-0 lead. Smalley drove home Kaitlin Wagner, who had walked.
When Tharp drove home the run in the third, again on a two-out hit, it appeared East might be headed for the upset.
The last gasp came in the fifth for East, which had runners at first and third with Smalley at the plate and two out. Smalley ripped a hard grounder toward BNL shortstop Justice Kline that must have hit a rock and took a ridiculous high hop.
Somehow, Kline managed to react in time, jumping high to snap the ball before throwing out Smalley.
The Stars made the big defensive play at the key moment, and that was the difference.