HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL: Bobcats exact revenge on nemesis Stingers
MARION CENTER — “The third time’s the charm.”
“It’s the icing on the cake.”
“This was our game.”
It didn’t matter how many cliches Blairsville used after its win Monday afternoon, they all seemed fitting.
The Bobcats, who lost to Marion Center twice in the regular season, avenged those losses and beat the Stingers, 4-1, in the District 6 Class AA softball quarterfinals in front of a large crowd at Marion Center Community Park.
“The last couple times we played them, we just didn’t get it done for one reason or another,” Blairsville’s Emilie Okopal said. “We knew we had a chance to come in here and end their season on their field, and we really wanted to do that.”
The last meeting between the teams had Heritage Conference title implications, but this was the more important game for the Bobcats.
“It shows that we weren’t afraid to come here and play them,” Okopal added. “We really wanted — and needed — this win.”
“I’m just so happy with this win, and we’re going to celebrate this one,” Blairsville coach Frank Harsh said. “We would’ve liked to have won the Heritage, but this is a big win, too. … We’re just happy to go to the next game.”
Sixth-seeded Blairsville (16-2) advanced to Thursday’s semifinal against No. 2 Philipsburg-Osceola, which shut out Mount Union, 8-0.
The Stingers, who were the No. 3 seed, finished their season at 17-2.
“They are a great team, and they will represent our conference well moving forward,” Marion Center coach Ed Peterson said of the Bobcats. “I think they can play with anybody, I really do. They played their best game here, today. They came out strong, and we just couldn’t answer. They deserve it.”
Monday’s game was the pitching duel that everyone expected, but some critical errors put a lot of runners on base.
Marion Center standout Megan Risinger and Okopal, Blairsville’s ace, each pitched a complete game. Risinger struck out 12, allowed six hits and walked none but suffered the loss.
Okopal picked up the win, striking out 10 and walking two. She threw eight strikes and had two pitches fouled off in the bottom of the seventh inning to strike out the side and close out the game.
“I was really feeling it,” she said. “I had some pressure on me, and I like to play under pressure. I just stuck to it and knew I had my defense behind me. I was pumped up.”
Blairsville took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Shelby Oswald hit an RBI double that scored Okopal, who reached base on a dropped third strike. In the top of the second, Nicole Himes advanced to second base on an overthrow to first and Abbie Okopal singled her in to give the Bobcats a 2-0 lead.
“We had to put the ball in play,” Harsh said. “We made them field the ball, and they made a couple errors and we capitalized on them. Shelby did a great job. She had three hits, and two of them were clutch hits.”
Oswald singled to center to lead off the top of the sixth inning. She moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on an infield single by Cassidy Edmundson. The Bobcats added an insurance run in the seventh on Oswald’s RBI single to center.
“We needed some of those timely hits, and we just didn’t get them,” Peterson said. “But they did. They hit the ball when they needed to. They put the ball in play and got the clutch hits. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.”
Marion Center scored its only run in the third, when the Bobcats committed three straight errors. The two teams combined for eight errors.
“It’s hard not to get a little bit upset when we’re making mistakes, but I just try to move on from it and make the next pitch,” Emilie Okopal said. “My teammates don’t like to make mistakes, so I know they won’t make them twice.”
Oswald finished 3-for-4 to lead the Bobcats, and Abbie Okopal added two hits.
“We’ve been doing a lot of batting practice, and it paid off today,” Emilie Okopal said. “We were ready for them, and we had a lot of confidence at the plate today.”
Kim Donaldson and Olivia Riley had the only hits for the Stingers.
“It was a good ballgame,” Peterson said. “They knew coming in here that they were going to have to play their best game of the year, and they did. It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. (The two teams) knew each other pretty well, and my hat goes off to them. We had a great run with a great bunch of kids to coach. We’re not losing too much, and we’re looking forward to defending that Heritage Conference title next year.”