INDIANAPOLIS — With Hauser’s eventual 4-1 state championship victory on the line during Saturday’s fifth inning, Jets freshman Tessa Sims was pitching in oppressive, laundromat humidity, turning her focus into sopping mush.
Sims had just buzzed a fastball off the arm of Carroll’s Hailey Atkisson, and the bases were loaded at Ben Davis High School as the Class A championship game was locked in a 1-1 tie.
Coming to the plate with two outs was the Cougars’ Lizzy Eurit, a .369 hitter, and Hauser coach Craig Sims knew that his star pitcher, and daughter, was struggling. He called a brief meeting on the mound knowing that one bad pitch likely would leave his team in the dumpster.
Leslie Sims, Hauser’s starting shortstop and Tessa’s older sister, summed up the moment.
“That’s where champions are made,” Leslie Sims said.
Three strikes later, Eurit was headed back to the dugout, the inning was finished and the Jets were building to an emotional peak that led to two sixth-inning runs and the eventual championship, the first softball state title and second overall (boys basketball won in 2006) for the school.
“Tessa was in trouble,” Craig Sims said of that fifth-inning jam. “I know people couldn’t tell, but I was calling pitches and the ball wasn’t going where we wanted.”
Hauser catcher Hailey Lange said her pitcher was getting a little tired in the fifth inning and wasn’t using her legs as much as she had done earlier in the game, when she struck out eight of the first nine Cougars.
“I just told her that she had to focus,” Lange said. “Then she got herself pumped up. She dug deep.”
Hauser’s offense dug down deep as well. Craig Sims said one of the keys to victory was for the Jets (26-4) to put the ball in play against Carroll senior pitcher Carly Kingery, who hadn’t allowed a run in the previous five playoff games.
Leslie Sims got the team started with a lead-off triple in the first inning, slapping the ball over the head of Carroll left fielder Meghan Miller. Tessa Sims drilled a two-strike pitch into right field for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead.
However, the Jets couldn’t manage another run through the first four innings and Carroll’s Courtney Atkisson tied the game in the bottom of the fourth by drilling a two-out solo homer off the scoreboard above the center-field fence.
It was the first home run in a Class A title game in the 18 years of the event.
“Leave it to Tessa to set that record,” Craig Sims said with a laugh.
At the time for Hauser, it was no laughing matter. Atkisson’s homer got the Carroll fans into the game and seemed to be a momentum builder. Then came the fifth when the Cougars left the bases filled.
But Hauser quickly stole the momentum away in the sixth. Paige Miller reached on an error and Lange ripped a single to left. Sidney Giles executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third.
Hauser’s Abby Kidwell then pushed a perfect bunt past Kingery toward shortstop for an infield single and an RBI. Hauser led 2-1.
Kali Schumacher then executed another perfect sacrifice bunt for an RBI and a 3-1 lead.
Hauser picked up its final run in the seventh as Leslie Sims laid down a bunt single, stole second and scored when Carroll mishandled Tessa Sims’ bunt.
The successful bunts were a turnaround from earlier in the game when the Jets kept popping up all their bunt attempts.
“The difference was that we were staying higher with the barrel of our bat,” Craig Sims said.
Tessa Sims did the rest of the work, blowing away the Cougars in order in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings. She induced Sidney Fisher to hit a grounder back to the circle with two out in the seventh, and flipped the ball to Schumacher at first for the final out.
She finished with a three-hitter that included 15 strikeouts.
“You can’t tell that Tessa is a freshman,” Craig Sims said. “She presents herself like she is a senior. She started the game well and she finished well.”
Tessa Sims just needed to get past that “champions” moment.
“It was really nerve-racking,” she said. “During the fifth, my pitches were awful. I was getting nervous.
“But then my team came in the circle. Everyone pumped me up.”
Carroll finished its season 24-5.