Magical season for Lady Pacers comes to an end with semistate loss, 3-1

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Early Saturday morning, the Regional champion Switzerland County Lady Pacer softball team boarded a charter bus and headed into new territory - no other team in school history had ever participated in a semistate tournament before, and the Lady Pacers were making history with their appearance in the Forest Park Semistate held in Ferdinand, Indiana.

Switzerland County played the Frankton Lady Eagles in the semistate’s first game, and after a hard-fought afternoon, the Lady Pacer season came to an end with a 3-1 defeat, but the game was in doubt until the very end.

Playing at such a high level leaves little room for error, and it was some untimely miscues at critical times that led to the Switzerland County downfall, as none of Frankton’s three runs were earned, all coming after Switzerland County errors in the field.

Senior pitcher Becky Turner turned in a masterpiece on the mound for the Lady Pacers, working her way methodically through the Lady Eagle batting order and fielding her position flawlessly when Frankton players attempted to bunt.

Switzerland County, known for its defense throughout the season, saw that armor crack just a bit, committing an error in each of the first four innings.

Frankton also got a solid pitching performance from Karli Clark, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and also helped her own cause with a two-run homer in the third.

Frankton got its first run in the second inning, when a Lady Eagle batter reached on an error; and then stole second. The runner then went to third on a sacrifice, and was driven home moments later on a single.

After Karli Clark’s homerun in the third inning, things settled into a pitcher’s duel until the sixth, with Switzerland County showing some nerves by swinging through some high pitches.

The Lady Pacers did have some scoring chances throughout the game, including the first inning when Hailee Smith walked to open the inning and Maggie Armstrong reached on an error with one out, pushing Hailee Smith to second. Cleanup hitter Trisha Smith then struck out, and Hailee Smith was thrown out attempting to steal third on the play, ending the Lady Pacer threat.

Switzerland County got on the board in the sixth inning, as shortstop Hayley South singled. Trisha Smith then ripped a double deep into leftcenter field, allowing Hayley South to score all the way from first.

That was as close as Switzerland County could get however, as the Frankton pitcher struck out the side in the seventh – completing a 14-strikeout day – and Frankton moved on to the semistate final against State number one ranked Linton-Stockton.

Becky Turner’s pitching line was just as impressive, going all seven innings and allowing just five hits.

“We blinked and they took advantage of it,” Switzerland County coach Steven Konkle said following the game. “I think they forced us, after the errors, to make more plays. You know, we gave up one run in the second, then we gave up the shot after putting a runner on.”

Coach Konkle said that momentum played a big role in the contest.

“They wanted to score early and they did,” he said. “They’re a decent team. We blinked and they scored. We felt like we’d have to play error-free ball to be in the game. We’ve felt that way the entire tournament, and we have up until this point. I can’t say it was nerves, I think we just took our eye off the ball one too many times, and that’s the way the ball bounced today.”

The pressure of playing at the semistate level – only eight Class 2A teams in the entire state made it that far – pushes play to an entirely new level.

“Any mistake at this level is magnified,” Coach Konkle said. “We gave up that first run; and then we give up two runs to a good batter. I think she had nine homeruns coming into the game, that was her 10th. You make a wrong pitch and she hits it out, and suddenly you’re down 3-0.”

But the Lady Pacer coach also saw a “never say die” attitude in his team.

“To their credit, they got down for a little bit, but then bounced right back and scored a run,” he said. “That run was produced by players who will be coming back next year, so as a coach that’s good to see.”

So is the history of the moment lost in the defeat?

“They need to hold their heads very high,” the coach said. “From where they came to where they got to, they have just accomplished more than any girls team I’ve coached. They had that special feeling about them, and they still had it today.”

The loss finishes the careers of five senior members of the team: Hailee Smith, Maggie Armstrong, Catie Johnson, Becky Turner, and Maggie Devers.

“My seniors are sad, because it’s their last game and they just want to keep playing,” Steven Konkle said. “We have great seniors. Maggie Armstrong played an incredible third base all season and was a great hitter for us. Hailee Smith, who played injured all season and came off of a huge injury. We thought we’d lost her in the South Ripley game at the end of the year for the rest of the season. She comes off of that and has a huge tournament.

“Becky Turner, I told her in the circle after the game, ‘you were at your best today. I’ve not seen you any better. Fielding. Pitching. I don’t care about the score, you were at your best when it counted’. Maggie Devers played for the first time this year, and we kept asking her all year ‘where have you been for three years?’ She has a couple of huge hits to give us some wins and give us some momentum, and she’s just been a great team person.

“Catie Johnson has played with sugar problems all year. She’s got adrenaline problems. They’ve told her to quit playing softball, so they can put a month-long monitor on her, but she told them no, not until her senior year of softball was over. She’s just a trooper.”

So final thoughts on a great season?

“I’ve enjoyed it a lot this last month and a half,” Coach Konkle said. “It’s been a great ride.”